The final pool of the Heineken Champions Cup has the financial and squad depth power of Montpellier and Toulon facing off against Heineken Champions Cup debutantes Newcastle Falcons and Edinburgh Rugby. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the pool more in hope than expectation.
French teams hold the aces
When this draw was announced, it looked like Toulon would be firm favorites to advance to the last eight but how things have changed? Toulon have struggled in Top 14 action only winning two league games so far, a side devoid of cohesion between the pack, half backs and back line. Don’t get me wrong, Toulon have a superb squad with the likes of Messam, Pietersen, Belleau and Trinh-Duc but things have not gelled this season and represents hope for the others in the pool.
Montpellier come into this pool as favorites; solid start to the domestic action winning four league games out of seven. The backbone of this side is fronted by experienced South Africans starting with hooker Du Plessis, scrum half Ruan Pienaar, Serfontein and Steyn in the three quarters. The side also boasts the likes of Picamoles and Fall as well. Their 29-17 victory over Toulon at home last weekend is a good indicator; a performance built on solid pack work and where marauding Nagusa with ball in hand caused massive headaches. If Vern Cotter’s side can improve their road trip form, they should advance to the last eight of this competition.
Edinburgh Rugby come into top tier European tournament play in relatively good form. Solid home form seen in recent Guinness Pro 14 action; an abrasive pack with the likes of Gilchrist and Toolis providing assured line out. Mata at eight has the potential to dominate games from the base of the scrum. The back line has quality in abundance with the likes of Kinghorn, van der Merwe providing pace and power. The issue for Edinburgh will be their road trip form; has being poor this season so far. The other issue that comes to mind is Edinburgh’s inability to kill off teams effectively. Apart from the Toyota Cheetahs game, the home game victories have being very much down the stretch.
Newcastle Falcons are a welcome addition to the tournament. They were immense last season with their expansive game plan but only one win this season has seen the side prop up the Premiership Rugby table. There have being several close losses in this set of results. Toby Flood will need to provide leadership aplenty with astute game management to keep the side in these contests. The opposition is high caliber and I fear that Newcastle may well open themselves up defensively and concede scores at a rate of knots. The sight of Goneva with ball in hand will be a joy to see though.
Montpellier are a team which need to make a serious European Cup run this season. Their squad depth is stacked with talent and with Toulon struggling for form, they should do enough on the road to secure a last eight berth. There could be a potential second team coming out of this pool. I fear for Newcastle Falcons on their travels and the fixtures between Edinburgh Rugby and Toulon will be key. Toulon are a team on the brink, owner media outbursts, team discipline and I think Richard Cockerill’s Edinburgh could secure a playoff berth.