Munster Rugby and defending champions Leinster Rugby are safely through to the 2011/12 quarter-finals with a match to spare - and Saracens need just a single point from their trip to Benetton Treviso on Sunday to join them in the last eight.
But the other places are still there to be claimed, along with the three runners-up spots qualifying clubs for the Amlin Challenge Cup knock-out stages with 11 of the 24 Heineken Cup starters staying involved in European competition.
The two matches in each Pool in Round 6 will have simultaneous kick-offs and with priceless home advantage in the quarter-finals up for grabs there is everything to play for on what has the making of another tension-packed final weekend of Pool action of the 17th tournament with valuable ranking points at stake for all clubs including those out of knock-out contention.
The Blues know they need to match or better Edinburgh's result against London Irish this weekend, when they face Racing Metro Paris at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, kick off 3.15pm. Whilst a bonus point win will definitely top the group for Cardiff Blues, it wont necessarily guarantee a home Quarter Final.
As the Pool stages of the 2011/12 Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup reach a climax this weekend and next with Round 5 and Round 6 matches in both tournaments, coveted quarter-final places are on the line.
Given that calculators will be in hand at many grounds over the coming days, here is a reminder of the quarter-final qualification process for the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.
(i)The Pool winner will be the Club with the highest number of match points earned in each Pool. The runners-up will be the two second placed clubs from all six Pools with the next highest number of points. For the quarter-finals, the Pool winners will be ranked 1 to 6 in terms of the number of points earned. The runners-up will be ranked 7 and 8.
Clubs in the same pool
(ii) if two or more clubs are equal on points and the clubs are in the same Pool, then qualification / ranking will be based on the matches played between the clubs concerned:
(a) the club which has earned the most number of match points from the matches
(b) the club which has scored the most tries in the matches
(c) the club with the best aggregate points difference from the matches
Clubs from different pools
(iii) if still unresolved, or the clubs have not played each other previously in the Pool stage, qualification / ranking will be based on:
(a) the number of tries scored in all Pool matches
(b) aggregate points difference from all Pool matches
(c) the club with the fewest number of players sent off and / or suspended in all Pool matches
(d) toss of a coin
Clubs ranked 1-4 will have home advantage. The quarter-finals will be:
Club 1 v Club 8; Club 2 v Club 7; Club 3 v Club 6; Club 4 v Club 5
Quarter-finals – 6/7/8 April
Semi-finals – 27/28/29 April
Final – Twickenham Stadium, Saturday 19 May (5.00)
HEINEKEN CUP AND AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP SEMI-FINAL DRAWS
The draw for the semi-final pairings of both the 2011/12 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup tournaments will take place on Sunday, 22 January, at Cardiff City Stadium following the conclusion of the Round 6 matches.
The Heineken Cup semi-final draw will take place at approximately 17.25 (UK / Irish time) and will be followed by the draw for the Amlin Challenge Cup with both being streamed lived on www.ercrugby.comand broadcast live on Sky Sports and on Canal Groupe’s infosport + channel.
The draws will decide who the winners of each quarter-final will meet in the semi-finals. In the case of the Heineken Cup, where semi-finals are played at venues designated by ERC, the draw will also decide which clubs will have ‘home country’ advantage, where the semi-finalists are from different countries.
In the Amlin Challenge Cup, the semi-finals are played as home matches and the draw will decide which clubs will have a home semi-final, should they win their respective quarter-final.
With only a three week window between the quarter-finals and the semi-finals – the early staging of the draw allows ERC to select potential semi-final venues in advance of the quarter-finals and for the Clubs and ERC to begin preparations and planning to maximise the semi-final fixtures.
THE VALUE OF A HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL
• The average attendance for a Heineken Cup quarter-final in 2010/11 was 39,500
• €1m (euro) net profit per quarter-final was shared by two clubs in each match
• €3.5m (euro) in meritocracy payments was also distributed by ERC for the four quarter-final matches with each quarter-final earning €438,000 (euro) for the country of the club which has qualified.
• A club which moves its quarter-final to a larger venue receives 65% of the net receipts from the game
• As an example of the potential economic impact of a Heineken Cup quarter-final, research showed that the 2009 match between Munster Rugby and Ospreys at Thomond Park generated €10.5m (euro) for the local economy
“Commercially, the tournaments have stepped up significantly and the clubs are seeing significant commercial progress from their participation in our competitions,” said ERC Chief Executive, Derek McGrath.
“A look at last season’s Heineken Cup quarter-finals shows that two quarter-finalist clubs on average shared €1m (euro) profit for each match from the net receipts alone. So the prize is big, and if you add on top of that, the meritocracy payments which come from ERC’s central funds, just over €400,000 (euro) goes to each country of each of the qualifiers for the quarter-finals.
“You’re talking about a shared fund of almost €2m (euro) from each of the quarter-finals. And clearly, this is just one of the reasons why clubs are so ambitious to reach the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup.”