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Champions Cup state of play: who's impressed, who's qualified and who's still in the hunt for a quarter-final berth?

As we approach the business end of the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages, we take a look at the state of play ahead of this weekend's action.

The Heineken Champions Cup returns to BT Sport screens this weekend after a three-week break, and there’s plenty to play for with just two rounds of pool-stage matches remaining.

As European rugby returns to centre stage, BTSport.com takes a look at the state of play ahead of the penultimate round of games before the knockout stages begin.

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In this pool-by-pool breakdown, we look at which teams are in pole position to reach the quarter-finals, who is still in the hunt and who is already out. 

Pool One 

The resurgence of four-time Champions Cup winners Toulouse has been one of the surprises of the season so far.

The 2010 European Cup winners sit top of Pool One, in pole position to seal a place in the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since 2014.

In fact, Ugo Mola’s side have a perfect record from their opening four games, including a shock win over defending champions Leinster.

The two great dynasties of European rugby meet again this coming Saturday in what is likely to be a pool-deciding clash. If Leinster can beat Toulouse this weekend the Pro 14 champions will supplant the Top 14 giants with just one week of matches left to play.

Despite trailing Toulouse, Leinster remain the team to beat, according to BT Sport pundit Austin Healey. The former Leicester and England utility back maintains the Irish side remain ‘streets ahead’ of the rest of the competition, and it’s hard to argue with his assessment after another strong start to the European season for Leo Cullen's men.

The four-time European Cup winners lead this year’s competition for tries scored (19) and points scored (138) and have rightly been installed as heavy favourites to win the trophy for a record-breaking fifth time. 

Cullen's side will need to pay particular attention to Toulouse's South African flier Cheslin Kolbe, who has caught the eye in the early rounds with a some jaw-dropping solo efforts. The French side's blistering start to the campaign has been partly driven by the metronomic boot of 23-year-old full-back Thomas Ramos, who currently leads the competition for total points scored with 51.

Victory for Leinster in Saturday’s heavyweight clash at the RDS Arena should help them secure top spot and a crucial home quarter-final.

At the other end of the pool standings, there’s nothing left to play for but pride, with Gallagher Premiership sides Wasps and Bath already out of the competition.

Pool One table.

Pool Two

By far the most intriguing pool going into matchday five is this season’s group of death, with Munster, Castres, Exeter and Gloucester all in with a shout of reaching the last eight.

Premiership leaders Exeter looked to be out of contention after failing to win any of their first three games – drawing with Munster at Sandy Park before falling to defeats to Castres and Gloucester.

But a revenge victory over Gloucester at Kingsholm in matchday four has given the Chiefs hope, although Rob Baxter's men still face an uphill task of making the quarter-final stages for the first time since 2016.

The Chiefs now welcome Castres to Sandy Park this Sunday before a potentially crucial trip to Thomond Park to play two-time Champions Cup winners Munster, who lead the race for the knockout stages with a record of two wins, one defeat and one draw.

Before that, Gloucester go toe-to-toe with the Irish province on Friday evening – live on BT Sport 2 and BT Sport 4KUHD – in a must-win game for Johann Ackermann's side. The Cherry and Whites then face a daunting trip to play Castres in round six and Ackermann admits they may have blown a golden chance to reach their first Champions Cup quarter-final since 2008.

“It’s going to be challenging for us now to be involved, but we’ll take it when we get to that next hurdle with Munster at home and see where we are, and reassess what we need to do,” he said following Gloucester’s home defeat to Exeter last time out.

“We still want to be part of this tournament in terms of being competitive and a lot can happen, so we’ll see what happens in that game and see where the lock is. But the reality is we’ve let this one slip. It’s gone and we can’t change it.”

Pool Two table.

Pool Three 

English champions Saracens, one of only three unbeaten sides left in the competition, have been installed as 9/4 second favourites to win a third Champions Cup title in four seasons after amassing 18 points from a possible 20 from their first four games – scoring 119 points in the process.

Barring a shock defeat to bottom-of-the-pool Lyon this coming Sunday, Mark McCall’s side will all but secure a home quarter-final with victory in the south of France.

Meanwhile Glasgow Warriors kept their hopes of reaching the knockout stages alive with back-to-back victories over Pool Three whipping boys, Lyon – who are yet to earn a single point. The Warriors have a strong chance of securing one of the four spots for the competition’s best runners-up, but failure to earn a four-try bonus point against Lyon could prove crucial come the end of the pool stages.

Head coach Dave Rennie believes his side are ‘still in the race’ for a quarter-final berth. “Our focus is winning against Cardiff. If we do that, we’ll be on 18 points, or 19 if we get the bonus point, which would give us a real chance,” he said.

Cardiff’s slim hopes of staging a late run to the quarter-finals were extinguished following a 26-14 home defeat to Sarries last time out. Wing Sean Maitland scored the game’s opening try that day, taking him level with Racing’s Juan Imhoff, Toulouse’s Sofiane Guitoune and Ulster’s Jacob Stockdale as the joint-top try scorer in the Champions Cup so far this season.

Pool Three table.

Pool Four

Like Toulouse and Saracens, Racing 92 have enjoyed a perfect start in the Champions Cup this season and are already being talked up as the most realistic challengers to Leinster’s crown.

Summer imports Finn Russell and Simon Zebo have both fitted in seamlessly alongside exciting talents like Teddy Thomas and Virimi Vakatawa to quickly establish an eye-catching brand of attacking rugby that has taken Pool Four by storm.

The Top 14 club have produced more clean breaks (55) and gained more metres (2263) than any other side in the competition. Their spectacular, free-flowing style of play was perfectly illustrated in Thomas’ length-of-the-field score in Racing’s 44-12 win over Ulster earlier in the competition. 

While Racing are pretty much assured of progress to the knockout stages, Ulster are just five points behind the Parisians in second, having taken 14 points from a possible 20.

Leicester Tigers, who were on the end of a humbling 11-34 home defeat to Racing last time out, need Ulster to lose heavily to the Pool One leaders this weekend and hope they can pick up a bonus-point victory over them at Welford Road in a fortnight's time to stand any chance of pipping the Pro 14 side to one of the four available best runners-up spots.

First Tigers need to overcome Scarlets, who sit bottom of Pool Four and cannot reach the last eight after losing all four of their matches so far. The Welsh side's pool-stage exit is particularly disappointing given they reached the semi-finals of the competition last season. 

“It has been a very disappointing European campaign,” said Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac. “We had the highs of last season and we were trying to replicate that this season, but we haven’t been able to do it.”

Pool Four table.

Pool Five

It’s all to play for in Pool Five with the three top sides all having a realistic chance of making the next round. The major surprise has been the demise of three-time winners Toulon, who sit bottom following three defeats and just only solitary victory against Top 14 rivals Montpellier.

Qualification for the knockout stages looks beyond Fabien Galthie’s side, who welcome pool leaders Edinburgh to the Stade Felix-Mayol this Saturday before making the long trip to the north east of England to play Newcastle Falcons on Friday, January 18.

Newcastle’s quarter-final prospects are slightly more positive, although director of rugby Dean Richards has admitted it will be ‘tough’ to progress following back-to-back defeats to Edinburgh.

The Falcons led Pool Five following stunning victories over Toulon and Montpellier, but they’ve slipped to third following a 31-13 loss to Edinburgh at the BT Murrayfield Stadium before a 21-8 defeat at Kingston Park last time out.

Those results mean Edinburgh are now in pole position to seal a qualification to the last eight. The pool comes to a close with what could potentially be a winner-takes-all match between the Scottish outfit and Montpellier at Murrayfield – a game that will likely decide who earns the all-important home quarter-final.

Pool Five table.

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