Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of May 8-10

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2015

Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of May 8-10

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    The battle to reach the playoffs is going down to the wire across Europe.

    The final round of fixtures in England has three clubs battling it out for the last two places in the semi-finals, while in the Pro 12, the top three sides are all on 70 points, with fourth just one point behind. The league’s top four can still end up in any order following the last day.

    It is all thanks to an extraordinary set of results in the penultimate round that threw a sack full of cats among the proverbial pigeons.

    Exeter and Leicester pulled off thrilling away wins to turn the last day into a three-way fight to reach the play-offs while the top four all faced off in the Pro 12 with the Ospreys the only team to win, leaping into top spot after beating Glasgow while Munster and Ulster scrapped out a draw.

    Gambling men the land over would be well advised to keep their loose change in their pockets this weekend.

    In France, things are slightly clearer with two rounds left. Toulon lead the way, with Clermont Auvergne three points back, Toulouse third a further point away and Stade Francais fourth with a healthy seven-point gap to fifth-placed Oyonnax.

    Exactly who will play at home is less assured, with the top two facing off this weekend and Toulouse looking to cash in on a defeat for Clermont.

    Here’s how a thrilling weekend shook up the standings.

15. Wasps

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    Wasps' slim play-off hopes died with defeat to Leicester in a thriller at the Ricoh Arena.

    If they care to look at the stats on ESPN.co.uk from this game, they will fail to fathom how they managed to lose a game against 14 men in which they dominated territory and possession.

    But Dai Young's men have made giant strides this season, and from their new platform of a vibrant home ground and new financial outlook, the next campaign could see them kick on again.

    Champions Cup rugby is all but assured for James Haskell and Co.

14. Oyonnax

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    Oyonnax are now heading for an unlikely berth in next season's Champions Cup after a late-season run of form that has taken advantage of Racing Metro's decline.

    The men from Stade Charles-Mathon are now fifth despite defeat at the weekend to Bordeaux-Begles.

    They are level on points with Racing Metro but entertain relegated Lyon next week in a match that can give their points tally a significant boost.

13. Saracens

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    A shock defeat at home to Exeter has left Mark McCall’s men reaching for the abacus approaching the final round of fixtures. In one sense, the equation for Saracens is the simplest of all three contenders for the last two spots.

    They are out of the semi-finals at present, so they just need to go out and waste London Welsh with four tries or more and hope that will be enough.

    If Exeter fail to do the same, Sarries are home and hosed regardless of what Leicester achieve against Northampton.

12. Stade Francais

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    Stade Francais won city bragging rights with a 28-19 win at Racing Metro.

    And they did it the hard way, after losing captain Sergio Parisse to a red card in the first half, per Planet Rugby.

    Stade now have clear blue water between themselves and fifth-placed Oyonnax with two rounds left.

    They need a point to make sure of qualification for the semi-finals and will surely pick up at least that from fixtures against strugglers Montpellier and Brive.

    Racing are now down in sixth and fighting to sneak into next season’s Champions Cup.

11. Exeter

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    The Chiefs pulled off one of the results of the season with a 24-20 win over Saracens at Allianz Park.

    It places Rob Baxter’s men in fourth place as they prepare to face Sale at home on Super Saturday.

    They will be well aware that Saracens are highly likely to secure maximum points at home to London Welsh, so they must go all guns blazing at Sandy Park to try to do the same if they are to keep hold of that play-off spot.

    This is assuming Leicester overcome the champions at Welford Road. If the Tigers fail, the Chiefs will cash in with a win of any sort.

10. Leicester

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    The emotion on the face of Tigers boss Richard Cockerill said it all at the end of Leicester’s 26-21 win at Wasps.

    Leicester played most of the contest with 14 men after Seremaia Bai’s red card, but they somehow found form that has been seldom seen all season to defeat Dai Young’s men in front of a sold out Ricoh Arena.

    Leicester now need to beat Northampton on Saturday to give themselves the highest chance of extending their season.

    If Exeter and Saracens both secure bonus-point wins over Sale and London Welsh, respectively, only a fifth point from their clash with the leaders will secure Leicester’s passage.

9. Ulster

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    Paddy Jackson’s last-minute conversion salvaged a draw for Ulster at home to Munster, but it left their hopes of a home semi-final hanging by a thread.

    Neil Doak’s men have to go to Glasgow on the final day, where a win may still not be enough to lift them into the top two with Munster at home to the Dragons and Ospreys facing Connacht. If both sides win, Ulster will have to go to either Limerick or Wales for their semi-final regardless of what they do in Scotland.

    They may also have to go hunting for a win without the services of Iain Henderson, who was sent off for illegal use of his head, per the Belfast Telegraph.

8. Munster

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    Munster would be sitting pretty atop the Pro 12 were it not for Paddy Jackson’s 81st-minute conversion.

    Keith Earls’ score with less than five minutes left against the 14 men of the Red Hand Gang looked to be sending Munster top and on course for a home semi-final until the home side pegged them back.

    But home-field advantage is still a possibility for Anthony Foley’s side.

    They must beat Newport Gwent Dragons at home next week and hope Glasgow either lose to Ulster or win without a bonus point.


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    The Warriors were removed from first place in the Pro 12, but they still have their destiny in their own hands.

    A win at home over Ulster should confirm a home semi-final for Gregor Townsend’s side, while defeat would leave them repeating their trip to Swansea for the right to play in the final.

    That should be all the motivation the Scots need to finish the job against Neil Doak’s team this weekend.

6. Ospreys

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    The Ospreys soared form fourth to first courtesy of their 21-10 win over longtime Pro 12 leaders Glasgow on Friday night.

    A draw between Ulster and Munster assisted their sudden leap up the ladder, but Steve Tandy won’t mind that. His team now have a trip to Connacht to round off their season, where a win can see them secure a home semi-final.

    Wales Online’s Andy Howell paid tribute to the red-hot form of Ospreys No. 9 Rhys Webb following the pivotal victory, comparing the scrum-half to a certain Argentine round-ball genius.

    The nippy No. 9 is like Messi and another round-ball great, Real Madrid and Portugal ace Ronaldo, in that he has an eye for the jackpot. A stunning strike during the victory over league leaders Glasgow was his 17th of the campaign – 12 for the Ospreys and five for Wales – in 26 outings this campaign.

5. Bath

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    Bath squeaked past Harlequins with a 74th-minute George Ford penalty in a pulsating game at the Stoop.

    In the game’s defining moment, Matt Banahan made a sensational covering tackle on Ollie Lindsay-Haguewho was free and clear down the touchline when the big Channel Islander caught himthat kept them in front.

    Bath have secured a home semi-final, which will give them the best possible chance of reaching a first final since the Premiership play-off format was introduced.

4. Northampton

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    Saints smashed London Welsh 46-0 to secure top spot in the Premiership and book a home semi-final in the play-offs.

    They can afford to field the reserves in the regular season’s final game, but that happens to be at home against Leicester.

    Lose to their deadly East Midlands rivals, and the momentum will be with the Tigers should they meet again in the semi-finals or final.

    With Leicester’s outstanding result at Wasps on Saturday, Jim Mallinder must know he can ill afford to allow them a free hit to build confidence further.

3. Clermont Auvergne

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    The defeated Champions Cup finalists dusted themselves down to register a 37-17 win over Grenoble to recapture second place from Toulouse.

    They collected all five points available thanks to their healthy winning margin over the men from the Alps, with Nick Abendanon scoring his first try in the league, per Planet Rugby, which is astonishing when you look at some of the scores he has conjured in Europe this season.

2. Toulouse

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    The giant that slumbered in the early season is awake and on the rampage.

    Toulouse slaughtered Brive to momentarily steal second from Clermont Auvergne. A Yoann Huget hat-trick contributed to a 67-19 scoreline that nestles the three-time European kings just a point behind Les Jaunards.

    Next they travel to Grenoble, where a win will apply huge pressure to the team above them as Clermont go back into battle against leaders Toulon, indicating the men from the Pink City hold the balance of power over the Massif Central club.

    If the key to success in a play-off format is timing your run into form, Guy Noves’ players are hitting their straps at just the right moment.

1. Toulon

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    The European champions showed no sign of taking their foot off the gas following their third straight continental crown.

    Toulon beat Castres 37-21 with five tries in all.

    The game was over as a contest by half-time as Bernard Laporte’s side built a 23-7 lead, which was stretched to 37-7 before a late Castres rally.

    Tries from Steffon Armitage, Xavier Chiocci, Josua Tuisova (two) and Leigh Halfpenny all but sealed the champions’ place in the semi-finals of the Top 14.


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