Although we are all gearing up for the 2015 Rugby World Cup
, it’s getting to the business end of the 2014/15 domestic rugby season, so what better time to take a look at the movers and shakers in the big competitions around Europe.
European Champions Cup
Defending champions Toulon sealed their place in the semi-finals with a 32-18 win over Wasps, as the French side aim for an unprecedented three-in-a-row European titles. They will be joined by Clermont Auvergne, Leinster and Saracens who beat Northampton Saints, Bath and Racing Metro respectively. The semi finals take place on 18th and 19th April, with Clermont hosting Saracens and Leinster visiting the South of France to play Toulon. The final is 3 weeks later at Twickenham.
European Challenge Cup
Some Scottish interest in the final stages of European competition! Edinburgh edged London Irish 23-18 in a tight game in Reading to book a home semi-final at BT Murrayfield against Newport Gwent Dragons, victors in a Welsh derby with Cardiff Blues. The other semi is an all-English affair with Gloucester hosting Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm.
The top 4 qualify for the end of season play-offs, but 5 teams are in the mix with just 4 games left, so it's anybody's guess who will miss out. Glasgow are in pole position at the moment, but Ulster, Munster, Ospreys and Leinster are all hot on their heels. Warriors captain Al Kellock will retire from rugby at the end of the season and is determined to go out in style, but Ospreys and the Irish trio will all look to ruin his party. At the bottom, Italian sides Zebra and Benetton Treviso prop up the rest of the league, with just six wins between them all season.
As with the Celtic league, the top 4 English Premiership sides reach the playoffs after 22 regular season matches. Northampton Saints are out in front, 10 points ahead of Saracens, but Bath, Leicester, Exeter, Wasps and Sale all have a realistic chance of making it to the knockout stages. At the other end of the table, London Welsh have lost every single game this season, meaning they will play the 2015/16 season in the Greene King IPA Championship. They will be replaced by the side who makes it through the Championship play-offs, where Bristol will be hoping to finally make it up after recent disappointment.
Play-offs again, but this time it's the top 6 teams who make it. The teams finishing third through to sixth on the ladder play quarter-finals, hosted by the No. 3 and No. 4 teams. The winners then face the top two seeds in the semi-finals, whose winners then meet in the final at Stade De France. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Toulon and Clermont are equal on points at the top the table, but below them, it's all to play for in the race for the top 6. The two bottom sides have a play-off of their own, this time to see who will be relegated to D2.
So there it is, a fairly comprehensive of the major players in Europe's top competitions, but who do you think will emerge on top of their respective leagues? Let us know on Twitter @Rugbystuff
, or via the relevant post on our Facebook