European Rugby Champions Cup Preview
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A new era in European rugby begins this weekend as the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup kicks off LADS!
It has always been a tough ask to rule Europe but the new condensed format means it has got even tougher and teams will have to be at their very best from game one.
Toulon will be hoping to make it three from three but will face tough competition from Top 14 heavyweights Clermont Auvergne and Montpellier. Saracens and Northampton are the on form sides in the Premiership while Glasgow and the Ospreys will look to take their Pro12 form into Europe. The Irish heavyweights will also be looking to once again save their best form for the biggest prize in European rugby.
Let’s take a look through the groups and pick out our predicted top 2 from each pool.
Pool 1: Clermont Auvergne, Munster, Sale, Saracens
Massively competitive group here LADSl! Can Saracens go one better than last year? They were taught a top end rugby lesson in the final but let’s not forget that they got there- they handed out a bit of a lesson themselves in the semi-final to Clermont. They will be very hard to beat in this Pool.
Munster, as we all know, should never ever be written off. They showed recently that they can still produce the goods when their backs are against the wall when they beat Leinster at the Aviva. When Munster show up and get it right, they can be pretty unstoppable. Last season in the semi-final they pushed Toulon close and hammered Toulouse in the quarter final- no doubt Anthony Foley’s men will be a daunting task for any team again this year.
Clermont Auvergne have made a good start to the Top 14 season and have responded very well to their disappointing season end and the humiliation in that semi-final at the hands of Saracens. They have been up there with the best in Europe the last few years and no doubt will be there again this season.
Europe will be daunting for Sale Sharks but they will be so happy to be back at the top table of rugby. They have won famously in Clermont before and are a dangerous card as they have nothing to lose.
Top 2: Clermont, Munster
Pool 2: Castres, Harlequins, Leinster, Wasps
Both Castres and Harlequins made disappointing starts to their domestic campaigns and might look to Europe as a bit of a fresh start. Wasps at team who are consistently improving and dream of once again becoming the European giants they once were.
Leinster have flattered to deceive thus far this season and like Harlequins and Castres they may well be looking to Europe for a kick start and a new focus. There are a lot of questions marks surrounding this Pool and it looks like it’s all to play for
Top 2: Leinster, Wasps
Pool 3: Toulon, Leicester, Scarlets, Ulster
Can the winners of the last two Heineken Cups start the new European Cup competition with a historic win?
Toulon are the team to beat in this Pool and in most people’s minds- in the competition in general. When you look at the defending champion’s squad, it’s simply breathtaking. They are incredibly strong at home and now they have this belief away in Europe too. Toulon can push on from here for even more, and will no doubt top this group.
Leicester are really up against it in the Premiership and it won’t get any easier for them in Europe, they will need to get off to a good start or it may very well be over quickly in this Pool.
Ulster also have some recent unfinished business in Europe; the way they went out to Saracens last year, having made the Final the year before when they were trounced by Leinster, will really hurt still. While they do have a new coaching set up, the coach and the players all felt the hurt and know exactly what is required of them this year.
The Scarlets with all due respect will only make up the numbers in this group. They may be able to pull off a scalp versus Leicester both home and away but we cannot see them challenging Ulster and Toulon. Never say never in Europe though!
Top 2: Toulon, Ulster
Pool 4: Bath, Glasgow, Montpellier, Toulouse
Normally you would look at any pool that has Toulouse in it and back them to get out somehow. However, you would not say that this season – although their recent win against Toulon might just be the boost they need!
Montpellier want the Top 14 so badly and no doubt they will be concentrating on that again this season as their priority but they have not bought the players they have just to make up the numbers in Europe. They have moved on as a club and that has been the case in Europe too and their sights are set on bigger things, at home and abroad. How this Pool plays out and where they are in the Top 14 come rounds five and six of the Champions Cup, we will have to wait and see, but Montpellier will be going for this from the off.
Then you look at Bath and Glasgow, who would not have been recent favourites to get out of their European Pool, but these two have growing chances here. Glasgow are such a switched on team now and are clearly being well coached by Gregor Townsend. And, the way Bath are being encouraged along by Mike Ford is taking them back towards the top. I would expect both of them to be fighting for top honours in this Pool.
Top 2: Glasgow, Bath
Pool 5: Treviso, Northampton, Ospreys, Racing Metro
Ospreys are a much improved side with goo Pro12 form, however may not quite be European contenders yet.
Racing Metro on their day could be very powerful but lack consistency. Treviso’s performance in the Pro12 has not exactly been encouraging and will probably end up being the whipping boys of this group.
Northampton are undoubtedly a really strong team, they are the team to beat here and could actually go a long way in the competition.
Top 2: Northampton, Racing Metro