Heineken hopes

Sky Sports assesses who needs to do what to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup.

By Tony Curtis - Follow me on Twitter @SkysportsTC.   Last Updated: 14/01/13 8:45am

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As the Heineken Cup reaches the final round of pool action, we take a look at who needs to do what next weekend to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Already four sides have secured their places in the last-eight, leaving four sides to slug it out for the remaining spots.

But with the top four seeds - the sides with the most points from the pool stages - gaining home draws in the quarter-finals, there is still plenty to play for.

Already through

Unbeaten Harlequins and Clermont are safely through to the last-eight and look good bets for home ties. Quins, currently the leading seeds on 24 points, travel to Biarritz, while Clermont (23 points) are also on the road - with a trip to the Scarlets.

Toulon have also won all five of their games so far, collecting 23 points along the way - and although that is enough to see them into the quarter-finals, they are not yet certain of top spot. Montpellier, who Toulon face in their final pool match, remain in the hunt for qualification as group winners after picking up 18 points so far. However, Montpellier lost 37-16 to Toulon in the opening game so they would need a bonus point win and either to score five more tries than their rivals or four more tries and at least a 22-point winning margin. For Toulon a solitary point at Stade Yves du Manoir would be enough.

Ulster, the beaten finalists last year, have also done enough to progress - although they have picked up just 19 points so far. Northampton could potentially finish level with them at the top after the final round of games, however Ulster would still go through as group winners as they picked up six points from their games with the Saints, who collected just four. Ulster will travel to Castres with their sights set on clinching a home quarter-final.

Pools One and Two

Who will finish top in these pools remains very much in the balance.

In Pool One, Saracens are in pole position after their sensational victory away against Racing Metro. Sarries have 18 points and travel to winless Edinburgh full of confidence.

However Munster kept their hopes very much alive with victory over Edinburgh on Sunday. That moved them to 15 points but they face a much tougher final game, with Racing Metro the visitors to Thomond Park.

Should Munster and Saracens finish level on points then a thorough reading of the rules will be required as there would be nothing to separate them. Both sides picked up five points from their pool clashes, while they scored a try apiece and the aggregate score between the two is 28-28. It would then appear to go down to the number of tries scored in the pool, with Saracens currently one ahead on 10.

In Pool Two, Leicester and Toulouse will clash in a mouth-watering showdown for the top spot. The French giants currently have a two-point advantage in the standings - with a late try from the Ospreys denying Leicester the victory that would have seen them share the lead.

A win for Toulouse would see them guaranteed a place in the last eight - while a draw would also be enough.

A victory for Leicester at Welford Road could still not be enough for them, though. Should Leicester only claim four points, Toulouse would snatch top spot if they pick up two bonus points.

The best runners-up

With the six pool winners claiming their place in the quarter-finals automatically, the final two places will go to the two runners-up with the best records.

Initially it will be the side with the highest number of points from their pool games. If any of the sides are tied on points the places will be decided by the number of tries scored in all pool matches. If this doesn't separate the sides, then the aggregate points difference from all pool matches comes into play and then it is down to the club with the fewest number of players sent off and/or suspended in all pool matches. Should there still be a tie then a toss of the coin will decide who goes through.

Given the close nature of this season's competition, all six pools remain live in the hunt for those final spots.

Pool Six would appear to have one of the two spots in the bag - with Toulon guaranteed a place even if they are overhauled by Montpellier in the standings.

Montpellier, themselves, are the best placed of the sides currently in second spot in their pools having already collected 18 points - and although facing an unbeaten Toulon side will not be easy, they are still in a strong position given they have scored 15 tries already.

With top spots in Pools One and Two up for grabs, four teams are still in the mix. In Pool One, Saracens lead the way on 18 points but will fancy their chances of claiming the group winners' place with a home win over Edinburgh. For Munster they are on 15 points and will be targeting a bonus point win over Racing Metro, who are already out of contention, at Thomond Park. A lot will depend on Racing's ambitions, though, as a win could earn them a place in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals.

Like Saracens, Toulouse also lead Pool Two on 18 points - however they face a crunch trip to Welford Road to tackle closet rivals Leicester. The Tigers are on 16 points so they need victory to progress. For Toulouse, if they lose they will be hoping to pick up a bonus point or two to give them a chance of a runners up spot.

Defending champions Leinster are in a precarious position as Clermont have wrapped up top spot in their pool. Leinster have picked up 15 points so far and will need a bonus point win over Exeter at Sandy Park to edge out some of their rivals.

That would see Leinster move to 20 points, while the best fellow hopefuls Northampton and Biarritz can hope for is 19 points.

Northampton are on 14 points and travel to Glasgow with the unenviable task of trying to win and score at least four tries. Jim Mallinder's men have managed just six tries in the pool stages this season - with only Castres managing fewer amongst the contenders for the quarter-finals.

Tries have not been an issue for Biarritz, with the French side having scored 14 already. However they will need to continue their scoring form at home to Harlequins, who have yet to lose in this season's competition and only seen their defence breached six times in five matches.

Castres have a small mathematical chance of sneaking into the knockout stages, with 18 points the best they could secure. They entertain Ulster, though, knowing that they would need a remarkable sequence of results to go their way.

With tries being used to decide places when sides are level, expect some entertaining games this coming weekend.

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