So the play-off place is secured with a week to spare and not many would have predicted that at the start of the Six Nations, but the seemingly interminable quest for Champions Cup qualification continues. It has gone from almost impossible to quite likely and then back into the melting pot.
Munster’s orgy of unpredictability looks on course to deliver exactly the opposite set of results we politely asked of them so Connacht may have to go ahead and do it for themselves, which has, at least in URC terms, been actually working out pretty well of late.
As it stands, if we still need reminding, Connacht need fifth place to completely guarantee qualification, sixth to make it practically a done deal, seventh to have a better than fifty/fifty shot and eight to need a miracle (like that one in 2016).
A win in Scotstoun guarantees us sixth regardless of what happens before. Connacht would be ahead of Sharks on points no matter what they do and the best Bulls can do is get four points ahead before we kick off, so we would have them on games won.
To get fifth we would need Munster to get nothing, or for Connacht to get a try bonus if Munster get a single point, but take a deep breath before you start shouting for Sharks on that basis. A Sharks win opens up the possibility of eighth place, so a Munster win or a draw is far preferable.
The only other game that affects us directly is Bulls v Leinster. Another win for the Leinster Academy is ideal here. Bulls are even welcome to a losing bonus point (but not two).
Glasgow look fairly locked in in fourth, with only an unlikely second defeat for the Stormers (without even a single bonus point this time) giving them a shout at third, so we may face a less than full strength team, but who knows?
Even though there are numerous possible outcomes, the results we want are fairly simple. If you’re tuning in to TG4’s Saturday triple-header, just shout for the three away teams (the neighbours and ourselves). If one of the other two win, we’re at least seventh. The only conflict arises if Leinster win the first one. In that case a Munster win would have us in sixth and our game would be a dead rubber. A defeat would give us a shot at fifth or a potential precarious seventh. So which you prefer depends on how much of a risk-taker you are. If they both lose, Connacht need to win or we could be off to the Challenge Cup by way of Ballsbridge. Of course if we do win, you might retrospectively regret egging the Southerners on, thus denying us fifth, but a bird in the hand, etc.
The below flowchart gets the basic drift, though it ignores some bonus point and draw scenarios, like if Sharks get 4 points and we get 1, we probably get ahead of them on points difference …
Ulster’s result on Friday might (along with Stormers v Benetton) affect who we play in the quarter-final, but at that point we’ll have no idea what position we’ll be in, so there’s no particular result that favours us there.
But Saturday promises to be a nervy day …