The last 16 of the Champions Cup has been finalised.
Going into this weekend’s round of pool games, seven teams had already secured progression.
But with nine qualifying spots and seedings up for grabs, the pool stage’s conclusion promised twists and turns as teams battled to be a part of rugby’s premier club competition in the spring.
And despite further Covid-enforced match cancellations, it did not disappoint.
We take a look at how the round of 16 shapes up as the Champions Cup is put to bed until April.
Who made it through?
Where better to start than the final pool game of the season between Montpellier and 2020 winners Exeter Chiefs?
Victory for the Chiefs would have set up an all-Premiership encounter with Bristol Bears, but they instead now look forward to a meeting with Munster as defeat saw them finish sixth in Pool A.
The Irish province beat Wasps earlier on Sunday to secure third spot in Pool B, having won all four games, and Johann van Graan’s side will be at home in the second leg.
Securing a bonus-point win over Exeter sealed seventh place for Montpellier and the Top 14 outfit can now prepare for a knockout tie against Premiership champions Harlequins.
Ulster had already secured their spot in the next round before beating Clermont on Saturday, and Dan McFarland’s side’s reward for winning all four games is a meeting with holders Toulouse.
The Top 14 champions were angered by European Professional Club Rugby’s decision to cancel their game against Cardiff because of positive Covid cases in the French club’s squad.
While elimination was possible, Toulouse ultimately finished seventh and will return to Belfast’s Kingspan Stadium, where they ran out 29-22 winners in December 2020.
As for three-time finalists Clermont, they will take on Premiership leaders Leicester, with the two-time winners topping Pool A having been awarded a 28-0 win over Bordeaux-Begles after a Covid outbreak in the French squad forced the cancellation of Saturday’s game.
Also emerging out of Pool B were Bristol, who are still unbeaten after three wins and a draw. The Bears’ reward for securing a top-four place is an all-Premiership tie against Sale after the Sharks sealed fifth spot in Pool A with a comprehensive seven-try win over Ospreys on Sunday.
The sides have already met this season, of course, with the Bears running out 32-15 winners at Ashton Gate earlier this month.
No team has scored more tries in this season’s Champions Cup than Leinster, with the four-time winners racking up 30 – and that despite having to accept a 28-0 defeat by Montpellier in December following a Covid outbreak in the Irish side’s camp.
However, Leo Cullen’s side – chasing a first title since 2018 – subsequently issued an emphatic statement by thumping Montpellier 89-7 in Dublin before securing a 64-7 win at Bath to clinch fourth spot in Pool A.
Leinster’s opponents – Connacht – need no introduction to Cullen’s side.
The cancellation of the Toulouse-Cardiff game guaranteed Andy Friend’s side passage to the last 16 for the first time in the province’s history.
But while qualification was already in the bag, Connacht’s trip to Paris to face Stade Francais still produced fireworks.
Stade needed a bonus-point win with a margin of at least six points to replace Cardiff in eighth in Pool B, but their hopes appeared bleak when Jarrad Butler’s converted try put Connacht 11 points ahead in Paris.
But Stade – reduced to 14 following hooker Tolu Latu’s dismissal – roared back into it with Ryan Chapuis and Adrien Lapegue tries propelling them into a three-point lead.
And having missed an 80th-minute penalty, replacement fly-half Segonds made no mistake when presented with a second opportunity in a frantic end to the game.
Stade’s eighth-place finish in Pool B puts them on a collision course with Pool A winners and Top 14 rivals Racing92. Neither of the Paris clubs have won the Champions Cup.
Another all-French encounter between Bordeaux and 2021 beaten finalists La Rochelle completes the last 16 ties.
Who missed out?
Montpellier’s bonus-point win over Exeter knocked Glasgow Warriors out of the competition. The Scottish side’s fate was out of their own hands having lost 38-30 to La Rochelle on Saturday.
Glasgow drop down to the Challenge Cup, where they will be joined by Northampton Saints and Bath, who finished 10th and 11th in Pool A.
Ospreys‘ defeat by Sale on Sunday ended the Welsh club’s involvement in European competition this season.
The same fate befell Ospreys’ rivals Scarlets, who finished bottom of Pool B. While there will be no Welsh representation in the Champions Cup knockout rounds, Cardiff finished ninth in Pool B and will have Challenge Cup rugby to play in the spring.
Wasps and Castres also finished outside Pool B’s top eight following disappointing campaigns.
When are the games and how does it work?
The Champions Cup round of 16 first-leg games will take place between 8-10 April, with the return legs scheduled for 15-17 April.
The four highest-ranked clubs in each pool – Racing, Ulster, La Rochelle, Leinster, Leicester, Harlequins, Munster and Bristol – will have home advantage in the second leg matches.
Here is the last-16 first-leg line-up.
- Stade Francais v Racing 92
- Toulouse v Ulster
- Bordeaux-Begles v La Rochelle
- Connacht v Leinster
- Sale v Bristol
- Exeter v Munster
- Montpellier v Harlequins
- Clermont v Leicester