Cardiff Blues return to European Challenge Cup action this weekend as the pool stage comes to a conclusion over the next two weeks with a trip to Leicester Tigers and a home game against Calvisano.
It’s been a mixed campaign so far with bonus point wins away at Calvisano and at home against Pau being followed up with disappointing losses at home against Leicester and away at Pau, but a losing bonus point against the English side and two bonus points in defeat in France have kept us second in the pool.
As is often the case the final two rounds of European pool stage action bring with them plenty of calculations over whether teams will qualify for the quarter-finals, with the five pool winners and three best runners-up making it through, as well as who the opponents will be, with the pool winners ranked one-to-five and then runners-up ranked six-to-eight.
For Cardiff Blues there is one very simple equation; win both of our final two games and make it through to the knockout stages.
Beating Leicester and Calvisano would see us finish with at least 21 points, likely 22 as it’s a fair bet that we will be able to get a bonus-point win at home against the semi-professional Italian side.
That would secure us at least second place in our pool, and possibly first place if Pau were to beat Leicester in the final round of games, with that points total in second place being enough to get us through as a best runner-up in each of the last five seasons.
It all gets tricky when you factor in a defeat at Leicester this Sunday, and if that is the case then expect another piece like this next week explaining what needs to happen in the final round of games for us to qualify, but our fate will most likely be out of our hands.
The best case scenario in defeat is that we lose at Leicester with two losing bonus points, or get one losing bonus point and Pau fail to get a try bonus point away at Calvisano. This would ensure we stay second by a point, as if we finish level on points with the French side we would come out on top courtesy of getting more competition points from our head-to-head.
However, qualification for the quarter-finals would rely on both of Worcester and Castres, or Scarlets, failing to get maximum points in the final two rounds. This is not a given by any stretch as certainly Worcester and Scarlets could win both of their final two games.
The worst case scenario then is either that Cardiff Blues lose at Leicester with only one losing bonus point and Pau beat Calvisano with a bonus point, or we take no points from Welford Road and the French side claim any sort of win.
This would leave us third in the pool going into the final round of games, and relying on Leicester beating Pau in France in the final round of pool games, with the English side already assured of topping the pool and making the quarter-finals.
Even if we did manage to re-take second place in the last round of games then the chances of being one of the best runners-up are greatly reduced, with 18 or 19 points only being good enough to progress in two of the last three seasons.
So Cardiff Blues head to Leicester knowing that two points are the aim, with a win putting us in dreamland. It won’t be easy, but memories of winning away at Toulouse and Lyon in 2017/18 still remain as the Road to Marseille 2020 continues.