After the trials and tribulations of the Rugby World Cup 2019, focus suddenly turns to the kick off of the Heineken Champions Cup. A competition where the lead up has being dominated by Saracens whose no show at the competition media launch added further fuel to the fire of the London club difficulties. In this blog post, Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the pool setup ahead of tournament kickoff.
Leinster Rugby hold all the aces in this pool. Their early season form has been superb and with the integration of their Ireland internationals, the side look well equipped to advance to the quarter finals with ease. Lyon have traditionally focused on domestic competition than this tournament so not expecting this approach to change this season. Northampton Saints potentially have an outside job of securing a best runner up spot but they need to realistically beat Benetton Rugby with a bonus point try performance and this will not be easy given the Italians recent progressive form last season. Leinster Rugby to top the pool. The second place looks likely to go to Northampton Saints but hoping Benetton can continue progression and compete starting tomorrow at the RDS.
Fascinating pool. Exeter Chiefs have a point to prove in this competition; have threatened to make an impact but early pool fixture form has cost them dear in recent seasons. A road trip fixture against La Rochelle this weekend is pivotal for both teams. La Rochelle have the offload game to upset Exeter Chiefs but where does their priorities lie? Midtable position with little room for error with an extremely tight league. Will La Rochelle be conservative in their approach to this competition. Sale Sharks and Glasgow Warriors are sides with undoubted attacking potential, expecting a quality fixture tomorrow. Glasgow Warriors have responded to a poor start to Pro14 season but their defensive setup will be tested tomorrow against a Sale Sharks who given the space will punish anyone. Home form looks key in this pool; expect a close pool until the final round. Edge to Exeter Chiefs but this is a pool every much up for grabs.
All about ASM Clermont Auvergne for me in this pool. Their traditional pack game will pose serious issues for Bath, Harlequins and Ulster Rugby and then you add the flair of Camille-Lopez at half-back and the side look a serious live threat for this tournament. The ASM Clermont Auvergne home form is taunting for the other pool opposition to consider pulling up an upset. Bath and Harlequins potentially could cancel each other out with home wins in their tussles which opens the door slightly ajar for Ulster Rugby to stake a claim for second spot. Ulster Rugby are a hard side to judge right now; half-back partnership not fully nailed on so far as the ten jersey has switched quite frequently early in the season. An exciting back line but there are question marks on the pack post Rory Best particularly front five squad depth. The Bath Rugby home game fixture this weekend could dictate who finishes second to ASM Clermont Auvergne in this pool.
The pool of death. Munster Rugby, Saracens and Racing 92 square up to each other and then you have Ospreys in the pool as well. Ospreys short handed immediately with their Welsh World Cup contingent not available for selection so Munster Rugby have an early opportunity to create a platform to progress from the pool. The home form is going to be key for these pool sides. Racing 92 and Saracens this weekend looks extremely tasty, expecting a feisty Saracens performance on the road. Their problems off the pitch is going to galvanize the playing squad even further. The pool winners will not be decided until the last round; hard to call it as there will be massive twists and turns in this pool. Only one side gets out of this pool. Saracens for me if you wanted me to call it right now.
Toulouse look the side to watch in this pool. Their youthful attacking half backs of Dupont and Ntamack will pose serious issues for the other pool opponents and their solid pack will create the necessary platform to advance as pool winners. Montpellier have been a seriously underachieving side when it comes to this competition; massive squad talent but have failed to deliver. How serious are they about this competition? They face Connacht Rugby in Galway who are in the midst of an injury crisis. The lack of second row options is evidence of this. A perfect opportunity for the French side to win on the road but they are an enigma and don’t be surprised if they again flatter to deceive. Connacht Rugby, offloading game will catch the eye but those injuries are a killer early doors. Gloucester Rugby’s pool fate rests on tonight; how have they evolved in their pack to compete against Toulouse to create for Ciprani and an exciting back line? A repeat of last season’s inconsistent pack performance and they are out the gap early.
Pool Winners: Seeding 1-5
Leinster Rugby, Toulouse, Exeter Chiefs, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Saracens
Best Runners Up: Seeding 6-8
Northampton Saints, Ulster Rugby, Montpellier