Play-off Shakedown

We’re down to the business end of the season in Europe’s major domestic leagues.  With a couple of rounds to go, there’s still quite a lot hanging in the balance.  Here’s how it’s shaping up in each of Europe’s major leagues.

Rabo Pro 12

Four teams qualify for the semi-finals, with superior league position dictating home advantage right through to the final.

Home and hosed: Leinster have a home semi-final, and are assured of topping the log.  Having lost the final in the last two years there might be a feeling of unfinished business.

Looking good: Ospreys are second and have some momentum behind them.  They beat Leinster at the RDS recently and won away to the Blues this weekend.  With Dragons and Aironi to play in their last two games, they should hold on to second place.

Jockeying for position: It’s two from four between Munster, Glasgow, Ulster and Scarlets, in that order.  Glasgow have the kindest run-in, with Treviso and Connacht standing in their way.  Ulster have the toughest, with Leinster due at Ravers on Friday and their last game a trip to Thomond Park (another handy six point win, right?).  Munster’s other game is away to Scarlets.  Win either and their passage should be secure, but they’d like to avoid the RDS in the semi-final.

Semi-final line-up: Ospreys, Glasgow and Munster to win all their remaining games, leaving us with Leinster v Glasgow and Ospreys v Munster. Our Southern cousins (literally in Egg’s case) might not want to hear it, but we think a repeat of the 2010 final is on – Leinster-Ospreys in the Oar Dee Esh.

Top Catorze

Three rounds to go here, and six teams get to keep their hopes alive, with a mini-quarter final between the 3rd-6th placed sides determining the semi-final line-up.  Semi-finals are played in Toulouse and the final in Paris.  It looks like a bit of a reprise of last year’s line up, with five of the same six set for qualification.  Swap out Biarritz for Toulon and it’s the same teams, if not necessarily in the same order.

Home and hosed: Toulouse and Clermont have not only qualified, but have assured themselves of home semi-finals.  They are joint-top with 78 points, some 15 ahead of third placed Toulon.

Looking good: Toulon are third and are looking on track for home ties in the quarter-final stage.

Jockeying for position: Montpellier are just a point behind Toulon, but have to travel to both Toulouse and Clermont.  This weekend they whupped Lyon’s hides, with Gorgodzilla scoring a hat trick.  Their only home game is against a somewhat rejuvenated Biarritz.  After that it’s three points back to Racing Metro and Castres.  Racing face Stade at home and travel to Agen and Biarritz in their last three games.  And Castres have two home games left, so it would be no surprise if one or both of them inched ahead of Montpellier.  Stade Francais are 7th, but it’s hard to see them making up a sizeable six-point gap to Castres above them – they’ll have to content themselves with a place in the HEC next year.

Quarter final line-up: Toulon v Montpellier and Racing v Castres, with Toulouse and Clermont awaiting the winners, and the way they have been playing, they will see each other in Paree.

Oooooooooooooohhh Aviva Premiership

Two rounds to go, and the semi-finals could have a fresh look to them this year, with a couple of new entrants capable of joining the likely lads, Leicester and Saracens.

Home and hosed: Not quite there just yet, but Quins have all but secured a home semi-final.  After a barnstorming first half of the season, things have tailed off a little for Conor O’Shea’s men, but they’ve done enough to stay perched at the top.  They currently lead by six points.

Looking good: Those loveable scamps Saracens have been there or thereabouts all season.  They won the thing last year, but dropped to third last weak.  They’re still nailed on for a semi-final, but look set to miss out on home advantage.  The team that usurped them are the Leicester Tigers.  Tigers lost five of their first six games, suffering particularly heavily for providing so many players to the World Cup.  However, they’ve only been beaten once since then, and are finishing the season like a train.  They have five try-bonus point wins on the trot, Toby Flood is back to his immaculate best and they’re by a distance the top try-scorers in the league, with 63.  This weekend they dished out some serious pain to Northampton in the Gardens.  Next up it’s a trip to the Stoop, and a chance to lay down a marker against the league leaders.  It would be foolish to bet against them.

Jockeying for position: Exeter Chiefs are the story of the season.  The plucky boys from Devon don’t have many household names (translation: we’ve never heard of most of their team, though Tom Hayes, brother of John, does line out in their second row), but find themselves in the lofty position of fourth.  A place in next year’s Heiny Cup has been secured, and if they could squeeze into the playoffs, well, it would be a remarkable achievement.  They’ve a beastly run in though.  Their rivals for the fourth place are Northampton Saints, the very side they play this Sunday.  It’s in Sandy Park; and it’s pretty much a winner takes all affair.  Should Exeter lose, Saints will finish above them, as they’re at home to Worcester in the final round, while Exeter must travel to Saracens.

Semi-final line-up: We’re believers in romance.  Harlequins vs. Exeter and Leicester vs. Saracens. You would fancy the Tigers with their momentum to get to (another) final, and what price Exeter to join them? – Quins are teetering right now….

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