5 Things We Learned From The Champions Cup Pool Stages
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Northern hemisphere rugby is boring? Gimme a break.
The pool stages of the Champions Cup are officially over and we have our eight quarter-finalists. Four French clubs, two Irish, and one each from Wales and England remain, with Leinster topping the seedings overall.
Holders Saracens are in by the skin of their teeth, with four previous winners still in the competition (Munster, Leinster, Toulon and Saracens.)
Here are five things we learned from the pool stages, before we shift focus to the knockouts.
Leinster are clear favourites, or are they?
After going through the entire pool stages unbeaten, finishing with a flawless record, Leinster have been rewarded with a visit or Saracens. For a team that finished top of the seedings, they really couldn’t have asked for a worse draw. They’re still favourites to win, but if anyone can come to Dublin and beat them, it’s the current holders.
Write off Scarlets at your peril.
After losing their first two games, Scarlets proved us all wrong once again, finishing top of their group. Every time we write them off, they overcome the odds. A home quarter with La Rochelle is the reward, and we fancy the Welshmen to go through. The French side don’t travel well, and Parc Y Scarlets is becoming a bit of a fortress.
You can’t have your cake and eat it.
Just one English Premiership side has made the last eight, despite have a sea of world-class talent among their clubs. Teams wants to compete at the highest level in Europe and the Premiership, and as a result, the players suffer. Lions players based in England have racked up a crazy amount of minutes since the summer, and it’s showing. Tired players and an endless list of injuries.
Munster are the kings of the pool stages.
17 times now Munster have reached the knockout stages of Europe. An incredible feat, they are the kings of Europe in many respects. Have they got it in them to win a third title? You can never rule them out. Third seeds overall, with a home quarter-final against Toulon to look forward to. To the brave and the faithful…
Competition is crazy.
When you see the quality of teams that have made it through and then look at who hasn’t, it’s incredible. Neither of last year’s Premiership finalists have made it (Exeter and Wasps), PRO14 fliers Glasgow are out, big spending Montpellier are out. It’s crazy. Never has it been harder to progress from the pool stages of the Champions Cup. And to think it’s going to get harder next year with Italian sides no longer guaranteed a spot.