Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of January 15-17

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2016

Ranking Europe's Top 15 Club Teams After Weekend of January 15-17

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    LIONEL BONAVENTURE/Getty Images

    The penultimate round of Champions Cup rugby action resulted in a rousing win for the Ospreys, while main contenders Saracens, Racing 92 and Toulon confirmed quarter-final places. Leicester Tigers also booked their passage to the last eight.

    There is much left to play for in terms of the fight for the runners-up spots to progress to the knockout stages, and Ospreys and Clermont Auvergne are still vying for the top spot in Pool 2.

    There are tumbles this week for Toulouse, who have waved the white flag in Europe, and Ulster, who were soundly beaten by Saracens. Northampton Saints return to the ranking after beating Glasgow Warriors and putting themselves back in the hunt for qualification.

    Here are Europe's top 15 club rugby teams after the weekend's matches. 

15. Northampton Saints (New Entry)

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    A late try by the coach's son kept Saints in the hunt for a runners-up spot in the Champions Cup.

    Harry Mallinder scored the winner in a 19-15 victory against Glasgow to put Northampton on 14 points, with the upcoming trip to Scarlets offering hope of a five-point haul.

    The Pro12 leaders have had a miserable campaign and may well rest their front-line troops in a game they can get nothing from but pride. That could offer the east Midlanders the opportunity to fill their boots.

14. Bordeaux-Begles (New Entry)

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    Bordeaux-Begles kept Pool 2 bubbling along with their 34-27 win over Exeter Chiefs.

    The Frenchmen are bottom of the group but level on points with their weekend opponents, and both sides are just five points off leaders Ospreys.

    So, in theory, both Bordeaux and the Chiefs could claim first and second places with a bonus-point win in their next games against Clermont and Ospreys, respectively.

    Unlikely.

13. Toulouse (Last Week, 11)

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    Toulouse had long-ago thrown their European dreams onto the bonfire for this season, and there was little chance of much fire from Ugo Mola's men in the snow of Oyonnax.

    They were beaten 32-14 by the Top 14 strugglers and are now bottom of their pool.

    In a strong position in the league, Toulouse will put all their efforts into the Top 14 to salvage a season that has been far from spectacular as far as Europe is concerned.

12. Stade Francais (10)

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    Stade Francais slip back to 12th spot in the rankings after an away defeat to Munster. Their 26-13 loss handed the pool to Leicester and dented their hopes of a place in the quarter-finals as a best runner-up.

    They face the Tigers in Paris next, while other second-placed sides may have an easier task to put themselves in one of those "best of the rest" slots.

11. Wasps (12)

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    Wasps move up a spot despite their 15-11 defeat to Toulon.

    Dai Young's men acquitted themselves superbly in France and could not quite see the job out as Drew Mitchell broke black-and-gold hearts with his last-minute winner.

    They are now a point behind European champions Toulon and face a home clash with a resurgent Leinster. Five points would put them in the hunt for a place as best runners-up, assuming Bath don't reverse their recent fortunes to turn Toulon over at the Rec.

10. Ulster (7)

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    Ulster were second best all over the park to a strong Saracens side, losing 33-17 at Allianz Park.

    Les Kiss' side must now squeeze a five-point maximum from their final pool opponents Oyonnax and hope that will be enough to put them through as one of the best runners-up.

    Despite home and away wins over Toulouse in this section, it's results against the English champions that provide the true measuring stick for the Irishmen in this group, and they have looked far from capable of toppling them.

9. Exeter (5)

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    Exeter's much-changed starting 15 put in a valiant effort in defeat to Bordeaux-Begles that now leaves them with the slightest of chances of getting through.

    Rob Baxter's side lost 34-27 in France and host pool-leaders Ospreys next.

    It has been a decent campaign by the Devon men with a memorable win over Clermont at home, but their away defeats to Ospreys, Clermont and Bordeaux have hindered their prospects this season.

    It was perhaps a sign of admission from Baxter in his lineup that their chances of a top-four place in the Premiership were already his priority ahead of kick-off.

8. Harlequins (9)

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    Harlequins kept their fine form going with a 34-26 home win over Cardiff Blues in the Challenge Cup.

    They let a handsome first-half lead diminish as the Welsh region fought back after the break, but Conor O'Shea's men did enough to make sure they will be at the Stoop for their quarter-final in a competition they must be favourites to win.

7. Ospreys (13)

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    The Ospreys are now firmly in the box seat in Pool 2 after coming from behind to beat Clermont Auvergne.

    Even the loss of Dan Biggar to a thigh injury couldn't derail their efforts to overhaul Clermont's 13-6 half-time lead, with his deputy Sam Davies kicking 15 points, per BBC.co.uk.

    Ospreys now travel to Exeter knowing a win will seal top spot and possibly see Clermont exit the tournament.

6. Leinster (8)

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    It was too late for Leinster to salvage this season's Champions Cup campaign, but they at least put in a performance worthy of their rich recent history in Europe.

    The Dubliners beat Bath 25-11, a result that ended the English side's slim hopes of progression, but for Leinster, it ushered in a host of new young faces promising great things to come, as noted by the Irish Independent's David Kelly.

5. Clermont Auvergne (4)

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    Clermont slip a place in the ranking after blowing a healthy lead to lose away to the Ospreys.

    Their 21-13 defeat leaves them two points behind the Welshmen going into the last round of pool play.

    Franck Azema's men host Bordeaux-Begles next and will be hoping for a handsome win if they wish to capitalise on any misfortune the Ospreys suffer away to Exeter.

4. Leicester Tigers (6)

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    Leicester swatted Treviso 47-4 to surge into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup.

    Their win and Stade Francais' loss to Munster makes their lead at the top of Pool 4 unassailable, with the Parisians nine points adrift.

    The Welford Road crowd don't strike you as the sort to put their faith in omens, but their record in the tournament this season could be portentous for the rest of the title hopefuls.

    The last time their team won five pool games on the spin they went on to lift the trophy, per the Guardian.

    If they can stuff Stade next week, they can put themselves in with a great chance of a home quarter-final.

3. Toulon (3)

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    Toulon snatched victory from Wasps to remain unbeaten at home in this competition.

    Drew Mitchell's late try was reward for composure under the pressure of a ticking clock. Bernard Laporte's men probed with certainty that the Wasps dam would burst, and when it did, they poured through.

    They are not swaggering into the quarter-finals, but they will be there.

2. Racing 92 (2)

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    Racing are looking every inch genuine contenders for the Champions Cup after the 64-14 demolition of Scarlets.

    If proof were needed of the gulf in spending power and the results it can yield between the Top 14 and the Pro12, this clash between each league's top sides was it.

    Boasting Dan Carter at inside centre for a change and with the outrageously talented Juan Imhoff out wide, Racing pulled out all the stops to batter the Welshmen.

1. Saracens (1)

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    Saracens marched on into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup after a 33-17 win over Ulster.

    Their win prompted Steve James of the Telegraph to implore Eddie Jones to make the Fez Boys contingent of the England squad the backbone of the side that will take on Scotland in the Six Nations opener.

    It seems a strong chance that Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, George Kruis and Mako Vunipola could start in that game, while Chris Ashton will play no rugby at all after a 10-week ban for making contact with the eye or eye area of Ulster's Luke Marshall, per BBC.co.uk.

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