Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of April 24-26
With two rounds to go in Europe’s top leagues, the play-off format to decide each division’s champions is making for a thrilling finale.
In England, there are still six clubs who could become champions and the situation is the same in France.
In the Pro 12, the top four is decided, but the order—and who will earn home advantage in the semi-final—is yet to be settled.
In France, the top two, who will also contest the Champions Cup final this weekend, both got beaten, while there were several changes behind English leaders Northampton in the Premiership.
The Pro 12 promises plenty of drama still to come with many of the top four still to play each other in games that will decide the hosts for the semi-finals.
Here is what the weekend’s action did to the power ranking.
Wasps followed a 36–29 win over Exeter with the news that they are aiming to become the world’s richest rugby club.
Their retail bond offer is intended to raise between £25 and £35 million from fans and investors, per thisismoney.co.uk.
They would certainly become a more attractive proposition if they can sneak into the play–offs this season, which is still on the cards after this win over the Chiefs.
Leicester arrive at the Ricoh Arena next, and Wasps, currently sixth, can overhaul them with a win that denies the East Midlanders a losing bonus point.
Exeter are the meat in the Tigers/Wasps sandwich at present, but the Chiefs have to go to Saracens next.
Defeat for them and victory for Wasps over Leicester will elevate Dai Young’s men into a commanding position on the final day of the regular season.
Leinster’s season was put out of its misery in Ulster on Friday night.
Their 26-10 defeat ended remaining hopes of clawing their way into the top four in the Pro 12, heaping more despondency on Matt O’Connor’s men after their Champions Cup semi-final exit to Toulon a week earlier.
There could be worse news still to come for last season’s Pro 12 champions.
They need to secure fifth place to guarantee qualification for next year’s Champions Cup, but even then they would be third seeds under the new entry criteria, per the Irish Independent.
13. Racing Metro
Racing became the latest scalp to be hung on the belts of Oyonnax, following Clermont Auvergne on to the list of victims for the club from the Dordogne.
This 21-16 reverse was made all the more surprising after the Parisians had sped into a 10–0 lead after only eight minutes.
They host city rivals and play-off foes Stade Francais in what is sure to be a crackling atmosphere in the next round, a game that will leave one side back in charge of their semi-final destiny and the other hoping for snookers.
The Tigers are back in the hunt for a play–off place after seeing off London Welsh at home. They leapfrog Exeter into fourth after the Chiefs lost at Wasps.
Tigers’ cause was helped with a red card to Exiles No. 8 Chris Hala'ufia who, shortly after flattening a streaker, did the same to Leicester’s Laurence Pearce in an illegal fashion before shoving the player’s head into the turf for good measure.
Richard Cockerill’s men kept their cool, and Pearce soothed his aches and pains with two scores for himself among the six five-pointers racked up by the home side.
Leicester are a point to the good above the Chiefs but will face a stiff exam in the next round when they visit Wasps.
Ospreys beat Cardiff Blues 31–23 away from home to maintain their play–off push. Steve Tandy’s men sit fourth with a comfortable gap from them to Leinster.
So now it is all about attempting to improve on their current slot if they are to gain home team status in the semi-finals.
That will be easier said than done with leaders Glasgow next to visit the Liberty Stadium and a road trip to Connacht to round things off. Dan Biggar took the plaudits from WalesOnline.co.uk:
It was the international quality of Biggar that came to the fore as the outside-half produced a real master-class, pulling the strings in expert fashion.
Ulster completed one half of a "big two" double by defeating Leinster 26-10 at home to end the Dubliners’ reign as Pro 12 champions.
The men from the north of Ireland now have to do the same to Munster in the next round to take the box seat in the quest for home advantage in the semi-finals.
This win was done the hard way, coming back from 10–0 down, and forward Iain Henderson told the Belfast Telegraph that his side will need to win the battle up front against Munster to keep their winning run intact.
Munster are a big front-up side…We need to dominate them up front and as we’ve seen earlier in the season if we don’t dominate up front we can’t get the front-foot ball we need to show what we can do.
Even victory over Munster might not be enough for Neil Doak’s men, who have the hardest run-in imaginable with a final-day trip to Glasgow still to come.
9. Stade Francais
What a miserable evening it was for Stade. They slipped to fourth with defeat at home to Toulouse.
And the result was compounded by Jonathan Danty’s red card that will earn the centre a suspension, plus a dislocated shoulder for fly-half Jules Plisson.
According to Rugbyweek.com, the French international is now a doubt for his country’s World Cup squad.
Stade’s season now comes down to their trip across town in the next round to fight it out with Racing Metro for a semi-final slot.
Toulouse rumbled into third place with a Friday night 21–12 win over Stade Francais in Paris.
Guy Noves’ side were helped by a red card to Stade centre Jonathan Danty in the first half for a punch on Vincent Clerc, and in the second period Yannick Nyanga’s try allowed the visitors to pull clear and overtake both Stade and Racing Metro in the table, albeit on points difference only in Stade’s case.
It has been a well–timed run into form for the men from the Pink City who can further their hunt for a play–off spot with a home tie against Brive in the next round while the two Parisian clubs directly below them have to face each other.
Bath put London Irish to the sword 43–17 and claimed second place in the Premiership as Saracens slipped to defeat.
Sam Burgess was among their five try scorers and earned the man-of-the-match accolade.
The Telegraph’s Daniel Schofield credited Burgess for a much-improved second half against the Exiles:
Starting his second successive game at blindside flanker, he was largely employed as the world’s most expensive midfield decoy for the first half before exploding into life after the break. He picked up the bonus-point score at the back of a maul of all places.
Bath face Harlequins and Gloucester to round off the regular season and will now fancy their chances of stealing home semi-final privileges off Saracens.
Munster beat Treviso 30-19 to finish the weekend in second place.
But their key fixture comes on May 9 in the next round when they visit Ulster for a game that could settle which of the two Irish provinces gets to enjoy home advantage in the Pro 12 semi-finals.
Leaking three tries against the Italian minnows might give Ulster some encouragement that it will be them, and not the men from Limerick, who will seal that crucial home tie in their bid to reach the final, per the Irish Times: "Anthony Foley will be disappointed with the manner of his side’s performance, particularly as they allowed the Italians in for three tries."
Sarries were made to pay dearly for poor discipline at Stadium:MK.
After going ahead with Chris Wyles’ first of two tries on the day, Billy Vunipola should have had another but lost control of the ball after charging down Stephen Myler’s kick.
But, per Paul Rees in the Guardian, their second-half performance meant they deserved little from the contest:
Saracens’...discipline collapsed along with their scrum after the break when they were penalised 13 times and finished a match they led for the most part fortunate to have a bonus point.
The Warriors secured a fourth Pro 12 semi-final in a row with a 31-13 win away at Connacht.
Gregor Townsend’s men top the table by two points but still have work to do to secure home advantage in the semi-finals.
They will take a massive stride towards that goal with victory over fellow title contenders Ospreys in the next round.
Saints reasserted themselves as pacesetters in the Premiership with a 25-20 win over Saracens that helped soothe recent defeats to Exeter and Clermont Auvergne.
Samu Manoa scored the Saints’ only try, but Stephen Myler’s six penalties cashed in on poor Sarries' discipline to put Saints five points clear in the table.
It is now looking like a home semi-final against Leicester or Exeter for Jim Mallinder’s side.
2. Clermont Auvergne
Clermont proved their ability once again to implode on the road with a 31-10 defeat to Castres.
A hat–trick from Castres wing Remy Grosso did most of the damage and gave Castres further hope of avoiding relegation.
It was a much-changed Clermont side from the team that got past Saracens in the Champions Cup, and with a result like this, not many of the supporting cast can expect a place in the line-up for the European final.
Toulon lost 32–29 at La Rochelle thanks to Mali Hingano’s 80th-minute try but remain four points clear at the top of the Top 14 after Clermont also lost.
After fighting back to lead 29-25, a yellow card for Mamuke Gorgodze brought late pressure on Toulon’s line that eventually cost them the match.
Playmaker Frederic Michalak at least put in a better performance than the one he produced in Toulon’s Champions Cup semi-final win over Leinster, per Planet Rugby:
A week ahead of their European Champions Cup Final, a much-changed Toulon side saw Michalak given a chance to make amends for his poor performance in last week's semi-final, and the French international playmaker was excellent.