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European Rugby Champions Cup weekend preview: Battle for qualification to go down to the wire

The European Rugby Champions Cup returns for another blockbuster weekend in what is the final round of pool stage fixtures.

With several places in the last16 still there for the taking, expect sides to throw everything at the weekend’s games in a bid to keep their European dreams alive.

Saracens with work to do

After winning just one of their first three games in the Champions Cup this season, Saracens have work to do to finish in the top four in Pool 1. 

Sarries have the benefit of taking on a Lyon side that have already qualified for the knockout stages ahead of their trip to StoneX Stadium on Saturday night (20:00 kick-off). 

The onus is clearly on Saracens to get the result on home soil and the motivation has certainly not been lost on the Handicap market, with the hosts -18 favourites at 10/11.  

With Bristol alongside Sarries on five points in Pool 1, rock-bottom Connacht, who have just one point to their name, will need to rack up the points at home to the Bears on Friday night (20:00).

Connacht will face a challenge to put the Bears away at Kingspan Stadium, with the hosts at 10/11 with -3 in the Handicap market. 

With the Irish province playing the night before, Sarries will know exactly what they need to do to ensure they finish in those coveted top four places.

Rugby Union

Trio competing for final spot in Pool 2

With Toulouse, Bath and Harlequins already having booked their ticket to the last 16, Ulster, Racing 92 and Cardiff are all battling for that final qualifying spot. 

Quins host Ulster on Saturday (13:00), before Racing 92 welcome Cardiff to the French capital (15:15). Racing and Cardiff will both know what they need to do once that final whistle has gone at Harlequins. 

It’s hard to see Cardiff getting anything from their trip to the Paris La Defense Arena, with a star-studded Racing side looking to bounce back after letting a lead slip at the Recreation Ground against Bath last time out. 

Ulster will be hoping Quins let their foot off the gas with qualification secured and the visitors are 12/5 to win at the Twickenham Stoop this weekend. 

English sides dominate Pool 3

Northampton Saints and Exeter Chiefs have already wrapped up qualification with both sides winning all three of their outings so far.

Munster only require one point from their home game against the Saints on Saturday (17:30) to secure third spot, but first they will have to watch on as Glasgow Warriors host winless Toulon on Friday night (20:00) at Scotstoun. 

Snow is expected to hit Lanarkshire on Friday and the blustery conditions are likely to suit the Scots more than their opponents from across the Channel. 

Glasgow know their destiny is in their own hands and they are 1/3 favourites to overcome Toulon at Scotstoun. 

Bayonne will be hoping their Top 14 rivals can do them a favour, as they must wait until Sunday (17:30) before they host Exeter Chiefs. 

Mathematically all teams in this group still have a shot at reaching the last 16 but the schedule certainly favours Glasgow and Munster.

Pool of Death lives up to expectations 

Dubbed the “Pool of Death” before a ball was kicked or a tackle made, there will be some heavyweights that finish the weekend disappointed. 

Leinster are the only team to have secured qualification going into this week, while Leicester Tigers and the Stormers will still be holding out hope they can land home games in the last 16. 

Leicester play host to Leinster at Welford Road on Saturday (15:15), before the Stormers take on Stade Francais in the 16th arrondissement of Paris (17:30). 

Whichever side out of Leicester and the Stormers this weekend has the better result looks set to land that important home advantage in the knockouts. 

The Tigers are available at 13/5 to win against the Irish giants, while the Stormers are favourites at 1/2 to overcome Stade Francais at the Stade Jean-Bouin.   

Sale Sharks and La Rochelle will be following the action on Saturday closely, as they must wait until Sunday (13:00) before their showdown at AJ Bell Stadium. 

Only one of these sides can finish in the top four and it should be an intriguing encounter in Greater Manchester on the final day of the pool games. 

La Rochelle are 4/9 favourite to win at the AJ Bell Stadium, while Sale are 15/8 to be victorious and condemning the reigning champions to the ignominy of seeing their title defence fall in the pool stages.

This article was written by a partner sports writer via Spotlight Sports Group. All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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