A Quick Look At How Things Stand In The Champions Cup Before The Six Nations

Niall Murphy

Niall Murphy

Niall is from Dublin and has worked for online media and gambling companies. Though he doesn't claim to understand any of it. Would like to go to Bilbao next year, for a weekend maybe in May.
Niall Murphy

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A quick recap before the Six Nations kicks-off.

European Rugby has now been put on pause as we prepare for the 2017 RBS Six Nations, with round one set to commence this weekend. Before we get into full Six Nations mode, here’s a quick recap of how things stand for the Irish provinces in the Champions Cup as they look forward to the knockout stages.

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Leinster

When Leinster scrum half, Gibson-Park, kicked the ball dead to end the final Leinster group game as a draw against Castres, there were a few raised eyebrows and a bit of head scratching. Leinster had possession, and even a penalty would have given them the win. But instead they were satisfied to end it there and take their points for the draw.

Immediately the pundits’ calculators were out, and it was decided that there was method to the madness. The result meant Leinster topped their group and would get a home quarter, provided Connacht couldn’t muster up 5 points away to Toulouse to claim that spot instead. And, not to linger on that Connacht game, Leinster’s calculation paid off, and they got their home quarter, seeded 4th.

But the win against Castres, through maybe just a penalty, would have made Leinster second seeds in the knockouts. That would have meant a home quarter and a probable home semi, which is the position Munster is in now, and why the bookies have put them ahead of Leinster for the first time.

Instead Leinster get Wasps at home. But if they win they’ll have to head to France to face the winner of Toulon and Clermont. Neither trip is particularly appealing, as reflected in the latest odds:

Saracens (15/8)
Clermont (5/2)
Munster (11/2)
Leinster (7/1)
Toulon (10/1)
Wasps (10/1)
Toulouse (18/1)
Glasgow (33/1)
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Munster

Now that there are even bonus points in the Six Nations there’s no hiding from rugby maths, but we’ll go easy here. The important thing about European permutations is there’s a big bonus if you’re seeded in the bottom half of the quarters and win your away quarter. Your reward is then a home semi, unless your next opponent has done the same thing. But in the world of European rugby, where home advantage is probably the greatest predictor of success, it’s OK to assume that’s not going to happen. So, in short, if you win your away quarter, you should be laughing.

So there’s nothing Munster can do if Glasgow beat Saracens. That will mean, assuming they progress, Munster’s semi will be away to Glasgow. But the bookies are telling us the likelihood of Saracens losing that quarter are slim, so there should be a semi in Ireland for Munster. And here the odds are pretty clear about something else.

Just like Leinster, Saracens will have an away semi, they can’t avoid it. But unlike Leinster they’re still favourites to come through that match and win the whole thing. The logic and maths of home advantage seems to completely break down when looking at Saracens. And you can’t help but wonder if that’s a little premature by the bookies, particularly considering Munster’s home form this season.

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Home advantage

Perhaps the other most striking thing about the odds is that eight seeded Toulon aren’t out of it yet. They have to go to Clermont for their quarter, but a win could mean a semi in Marseille. That’s an important part of European rugby maths: the semi would be in Marseille not Toulon.

The semis can’t be held in a home ground. Leinster won’t notice much of a difference if it’s in Marseille, but it’s not clear where Clermont would hold their semi. They’ve gone as far as Bordeaux in the past, which might as well be a different country for them-that’s where Leinster beat them in the semi in 2012.

Apart from the actual rugby these logistics could explain the difference in price between top seeded Clermont and third seeded Saracens, who are favourites. But it’s difficult to accept they’re comparing like with like. Munster’s semi couldn’t be in Thomond Park, but if it moves to the Aviva, would that really strip them of home advantage?

Maybe the Munster bet, betting on the power of 50,000 fans belting out the Fields of Athenry, is the best value on offer.