The dates and kick-off times for the decisive Round 5 and 6 fixtures in the European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup have been announced by EPCR today (Wednesday, 23 December 2015).
With the five pool winners and three best runners-up set to book their places in the quarter-finals of both tournaments, the January matches are certain to generate even more than the customary high tension and drama associated with elite European club rugby.
With four coveted home quarter-final berths also up for grabs in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, the exact make-up and ranking of the qualifiers for the knockout stages won't be decided until the final two Round 6 Champions Cup pool games on Sunday, 24 January 2016.
Before the new format was introduced in 2014/15, no pool runner-up had qualified for the last eight in Europe’s top flight on less than 19 points since bonus points were introduced in 2003/04, however, Wasps (18 points) and Saracens (17 points) both reached last season’s Champions Cup quarter-finals which means there is still plenty of incentive for clubs chasing points and qualification in the New Year.
In addition, the five rescheduled Champions Cup matches on 8/9/10 January 2016 could have a major bearing on the pool standings going into Rounds 5 and 6.
Of the many matches that stand out in Round 5, the clash of the Ospreys and ASM Clermont Auvergne in Pool 2, the meeting of unbeaten Saracens and Ulster Rugby in Pool 1, and the eagerly awaited Pool 5 rematch between RC Toulon and Wasps will guarantee big attendances at the Liberty Stadium, Allianz Park and Stade Felix Mayol respectively.
With the fixtures in the same Champions Cup pools kicking off at the same time in Round 6, and with all games televised live by either BT Sport, Sky Sports, beIN Sports, France Televisions or Sky Italia, the final weekend of the pool stage is certain to feature another dramatic series of matches as clubs battle it out for coveted places in the last eight.
In the Challenge Cup, the eye-catching games in Round 5 include London Irish against Pool 5 leaders Grenoble, Brive at home against Pool 1 table-toppers Connacht Rugby, and Harlequins v Cardiff Blues all on Sunday, 17 January 2016. Round 6 will get underway with a potential Pool 2 decider between Sale Sharks and Newport Gwent Dragons on Thursday, 21 January live on Sky Sports.