The end of this season will bring a brand new challenge for Cardiff Blues as some play-offs await for the right to play in next year’s European Rugby Champions Cup. A trip to France is the likely destination, but whereabouts in the country we will be heading remains unknown.
Play-offs will take place on the weekend of the 20/21 May, with the 8th ranked side in the Pro12 (7th place finisher) taking on the 7th placed team in the Top14, while the 9th ranked team in the Pro12 (8th place finisher) will take on the 7th place team in the Aviva Premiership.
Both the Pro12 sides will be away, before the winner of the game between the Pro12 and English sides hosts the winner of the Pro12 and French sides the following weekend to decide who will take the 20th spot at European rugby’s top table.
Barring some surprise results, which would see Connacht beating Munster away with a bonus point, and Cardiff losing away at Newport Gwent Dragons without any competition points, it will be a French trip for Danny Wilson’s men, but that’s where things get complicated.
Heading into the last weekend of the Top14, any one of six teams could mathematically finish in seventh place and be our play-off opponents. After a good few hours of calculations, here are what needs to happen for each side to end up as Cardiff’s hosts in two weeks.
|3||Montpellier Hérault Rugby||72||25||15||0||10||723||538||185|
|7||Stade Français Paris||58||25||12||1||12||617||611||6|
|9||LOU Rugby Lyon||55||25||11||2||12||552||579||-27|
Final day fixtures
|18:45 (GMT)||T14||Clermont Auvergne||La Rochelle|
|18:45 (GMT)||T14||Montpellier||Stade Français|
|18:45 (GMT)||T14||Racing 92||Bordeaux-Bègles|
Let’s start with the team least likely to make it to seventh, which unfortunately is Bordeaux. For them to be our opponents they would need to beat Racing away with a bonus point, ensure Racing don’t get any points and then hope Stade lose with no points, Pau get no more than one point, Lyon lose and Brive don’t get a bonus point win.
At this point it’s probably wise to point out that basically nobody wins away in the Top14, they’re rarer than a short queue at a CAP bar, to the extent that in researching 31 games for this piece, I only came across two away wins and a draw. Therefore for Bordeaux…
Verdict: No chance
Moving on and Brive need a win in their game and a similar amount of results to go their way elsewhere, including Bordeaux losing to Racing, Lyon to get less than a bonus point win and Pau and Stade both to lose.
The advantage they have is, despite being 10th currently, the three teams above them are playing away from home, and Brive would finish above all of them if they ended up level on points. So with a win…
Verdict: Definite contender
Up to the team currently in sixth place now, and Racing 92 likely have their eyes on moving up the table rather than making sure they secure seventh. With a home fixture against Bordeaux they should be confident of a win, and a try bonus point on top of that could see them catch Castres above them to get an easier Top14 play-off game.
Verdict: Too good to be in the Champions Cup play-offs
Probably the best chance of an away win this weekend is Lyon who travel to already relegated Grenoble. They will need to win, hope Brive don’t get a bonus point win, and that Pau and Stade lose their away games.
As such, if they can get that away win secured, they actually stand a fairly decent chance of securing seventh spot..
Verdict: Definite outside bet
Our Challenge Cup opponents from earlier in the season, Pau, have the unenviable task of heading to Toulon for the last game of the season, but they go knowing that if they win, and Stade lose, then 7th is theirs. A losing bonus point won’t be enough as Stade would finish above them in a head-to-head
Verdict: Unlikely to be honest
Finishing up with the current seventh placed team, Stade Francais. Unfortunately for the Paris side they have to play third placed Montpellier away, who could do with a win to secure a potentially easier play-off fixture.
If they do manage to win they’ll more than likely finish seventh, however a losing bonus point could be just as handy with the teams below them unlikely to win to leapfrog them.
Verdict: In their own hands
If you’ve managed to follow any of that, you’ll have realised that there are so many variables that even Stephen Hawking would struggle to work it out. I’d personally suggest Stade, Lyon and Brive were the most likely on the basis of their final games, but the Top14 is quite unpredictable, therefore there’ll be some fluid maths required on Saturday evening as the results come in.
The spanner in the works
However, there’s a little caveat to the results which comes into play should Stade Francais finish eighth or below.
They contest the Challenge Cup Final against Gloucester the week after next, and rules state that if the winner of the second tier competition is not already qualified for the Champions Cup then they take the play-off place awarded to their country.
Therefore, should Stade finish eighth or lower we will have to wait a further week to find out who our play-off opponents will be. Potential nightmare situation incoming!