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Champions Cup Pool-By-Pool Preview

Carlito

Academy Player
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
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70
Harlequins

Season overview: Quins snatched the last Champions Cup qualification place and have had a mixed start to this campaign. Jack Clifford's injury is a blow.

History: Despite winning the Challenge Cup a record three times, Quins have not managed to translate that success to the Champions Cup. This is their first time in Europe's elite competition since 2014/15.

Key player: Chris Robshaw.

Opening three games: La Rochelle (H), Wasps (A), Ulster (H).

La Rochelle

Season overview: Stunned the TOP 14 by finishing first last season, but were undone by an untimely red card in the play-off semi-final against RC Toulon.

History: La Rochelle are making their first ever appearance in the Champions Cup, having enjoyed their best-ever European campaign last season in reaching the Challenge Cup semi-finals, where they lost narrowly to Gloucester Rugby.

Key player: Alexis Bales.

Opening three games: Harlequins (A), Ulster (H), Wasps (H).

Ulster Rugby

Season overview: New head coach Jono Gibbes has made a decent start, although the shock PRO14 defeat to Zebre will have been a reality check.

History: The 1999 winners have never failed to qualify for Europe's elite competition, but haven't made it past the Pool stage for the last three seasons, let alone threatened to repeat their run to the 2012 final.

Key player: Jacob Stockdale.

Opening three games: Wasps (H), La Rochelle (A), Harlequins (A).

Wasps

Season overview: Last season's domestic first-place finish and quarter-final berth in the Champions Cup seems a long time ago for Wasps, who have lost four of their opening six Aviva Premiership games.

History: The great Wasps side of the early 2000s lifted the European Cup trophy twice in that period, but the last three years have seen one semi-final and two quarter-final exits.

Key player: Nathan Hughes.

Opening three games: Ulster (A), Harlequins (H), La Rochelle (A).



POOL 2

ASM Clermont Auvergne

Season overview: TOP 14 champions and Champions Cup finalists last season, Clermont have started surprisingly slowly this term, with four defeats in their first seven domestic games.

History in competition: Three-time runners-up (in 2013, 2015 and 2017), the double Challenge Cup winners (1999 and 2007) will be eager to break their duck in the Champions Cup this season.

Key player: Morgan Parra.

Opening three matches: Ospreys (A), Northampton (H), Saracens (A).

Northampton Saints

Season overview: A rejuvenated backline has brought a good start to the season in the Aviva Premiership and offers cause for optimism.

History in competition: Not since 2011 have Saints mounted a sustained shot at the European ***le, when they lost 33-22 to Leinster Rugby in the final at the Millennium Stadium.

Key player: Piers Francis.

Opening three matches: Saracens (H), Clermont (A), Ospreys (H).

Ospreys

Season overview: A youthful squad has been boosted by James Hook's return and Cory Allen's arrival from Cardiff Blues, but domestic form hasn't been promising, as they prop up Conference A in the Guinness PRO14.

History in competition: Ospreys haven't progressed beyond the Pool stage since 2010 and three quarter-final appearances have been the limit to their European Cup achievements so far.

Key player: Alun Wyn Jones.

Opening three matches: Clermont (H), Saracens (A), Northampton (A).

Saracens

Season overview: Billy Vunipola's injury is a blow for the defending champions, but they have made a fine addition in Liam Williams and the squad remains as ruthless and supremely confident as ever.

History in competition: Winners for the last two seasons and favourites to make that a hat-trick.

Key player: Liam Williams.

Opening three matches: Northampton (A), Ospreys (H), Clermont (H).



POOL 3

Exeter Chiefs

Season overview: Rob Baxter admits he has had to learn how to balance Europe with the Chiefs' domestic duties. Champions Cup success is definitely now the next target in the Premiership champions' remarkable rise.

History in competition: In their short Champions Cup history Exeter have made the knockout stages just once, falling at the first hurdle to Wasps in 2015/16.

Key player: Henry Slade.

Opening three matches: Glasgow (H), Montpellier (A), Leinster (H).

Glasgow Warriors

Season overview: Glasgow are the only unbeaten side in Europe's three major leagues, leading PRO14 Conference A by eight points after six games. Dave Rennie's men may land a few blows in what is likely to prove a taxing pool.

History in competition: Last year's quarter-final defeat to eventual winners Saracens was the first time Glasgow had got past the pool stage since 1998.

Key man: Finn Russell.

Opening three matches: Exeter (A), Leinster (H), Montpellier (H).

Leinster Rugby

Season overview: Leinster haven't picked up silverware of any kind since 2013/14, but they are one of the traditional heavyweights at elite European level and a strong start in the PRO14 bodes well.

History in competition: Three-time winners (in 2009, 2011 and 2012) and nine-time semi-finalists, Leinster have serious top-level European pedigree.

Key man: Johnny Sexton.

Opening three matches: Montpellier (H), Glasgow (A), Exeter Chiefs (A).

Montpellier

Season overview: New coach Vern Cotter has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal, but can big-spending Montpellier gel in time to launch a serious tilt at Europe's top prize?

History in competition: Montpellier first qualified for the European Cup only six years ago, but have progressed past the pool stage just once in five attempts since.

Key man: Louis Picamoles.

Opening three matches: Leinster (A), Exeter (H), Glasgow (A).



POOL 4

Castres Olympique

Season overview: Castres perhaps lack some of the stardust of their French counterparts and will need to find an extra gear after an underwhelming start to their TOP 14 campaign.

History in competition: Castres are regular diners at Europe's top table, but they have reached the knockout stage just once in 13 attempts.

Key man: Alex Tulou.

Opening three matches: Munster (H), Leicester (A), Racing 92 (H).

Leicester Tigers

Season overview: Leicester have lost their last two Aviva Premiership games and are pooled again with Munster and Racing 92, where they were beaten last season in what was a disappointing campaign.

History in competition: The Tigers have a rich pedigree. The first club to retain the European Cup in 2002, they have reached the final twice more since, but two Pool exits in the last three years have not pleased fans.

Key man: Matt Toomua.

Opening three matches: Racing 92 (A), Castres (H), Munster (A).

Munster Rugby

Season overview: Munster start favourites to top the pool, but their PRO14 defeat to Leinster last weekend was disappointing.

History in competition: Winners in 2006 and 2008 and losing finalists in 2000 and 2002, Munster have fallen in the semis in five of the last nine years, including last season, when they lost to champions Saracens.

Key man: Keith Earls.

Opening three matches: Castres (A), Racing 92 (H), Leicester (H).

Racing 92

Season overview: Racing struggled last season, having won the TOP 14 and reached the Champions Cup final the previous year, and they have made a modest start to this season.

History in competition: Racing first competed in Europe's elite competition seven years ago. Apart from a run to the final in 2016, they have surpassed the Pool stage just once.

Key man: Virimi Vakatawa.

Opening three matches: Leicester (H), Munster (A), Castres (A).



POOL 5

Bath Rugby

Season overview: Bath have made a promising start to the Aviva Premiership season, losing only two of their first six games to lie fifth, just four points behind the leaders.

History in competition: Bath were the first British club to win the European Cup in 1998, but the furthest they have progressed since was the semi-finals in 2006 and indeed this season return to the competition after a year in the Challenge Cup.

Key man: Semesa Rokoduguni.

Opening three matches: Benetton (H), Scarlets (A), Toulon (A).

Benetton Rugby

Season overview: Benetton have hit form just in time for the Champions Cup, winning three of their last four games in the Guinness PRO14 to climb to fifth in Conference B.

History in competition: The Italian side are back in the Champions Cup after spending only their third campaign out of it last year, but they have a tough task to reach the knockout stage for the first time.

Key man: Jurie van Vuuren.

Opening three matches: Bath (A), Toulon (H), Scarlets (A).

RC Toulon

Season overview: Last season's TOP 14 runners-up have endured a poor opening to their 2017-18 campaign, mixing four wins with three defeats to slip to sixth.

History in competition: Toulon became the first club to win the Champions Cup three years in a row in 2013, 2014 and 2015, but they have bowed out at the quarter-final stage the past two seasons.

Key man: Mathieu Bastareaud.

Opening three matches: Scarlets (H), Benetton (A), Bath (A).

Scarlets

Season overview: Scarlets lead Conference B in the Guinness PRO14 on bonus points after winning five of their six games and only losing in Ulster.

History in competition: The Welsh region have only once got beyond the quarter-finals in the Champions Cup - back in 2007 - and have exited after the Pool stage the last five seasons.

Key man: Gareth Davies.

Opening three matches: Toulon (A), Bath (H),
 

Carlito

Academy Player
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Messages
70
ECC Preview #2

Pool 1
Harlequins, La Rochelle, Ulster, Wasps

La Rochelle – after their surprise emergence in the Top 14 – make their debut in the competition, while Harlequins return for the first time since 2014-15. Both Quins and Wasps are badly hit by injuries, making advancing out of the pool all the more difficult, but the latter have progressed in each of the past three seasons, coming unstuck against Leinster in the quarter-finals last term. Ulster have not made it out of the pools since 2014 but do have Charles Piutau, who often saves his best performances for the European stage, in their ranks. La Rochelle also have a number of New Zealanders at their disposal and, while they are rookies at this level, they are the team to beat.


Players to watch Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Kevin Gourdon (La Rochelle), Jacob Stockdale (Ulster)

Predicted pool winners La Rochelle

Opening fixtures Ulster v Wasps Friday, 7.45pm; Harlequins v La Rochelle Saturday, 5.30pm

Pool 2
Clermont, Northampton, Ospreys, Saracens

The two-times defending champions up againstlast season’s beaten finalists and such is the format of the competition, it is entirely conceivable either Saracens or Clermont do not make it to the last eight. Northampton squeezed through the backdoor after finishing seventh last term but have recovered impressively from their opening-day thrashing at the hands of Saracens and host them on Sunday. Saints have been pretty dire in Europe in the last couple of years but how Saracens and Clermont – for whom Wesley Fofana is expected to return imminently – fare against them may determine the pool winners. The Ospreys have started the season in awful form but do have four British & Irish Lions who toured New Zealand, adding a bit of spice to their clashes with Saracens, who have six.

Players to watch Alivereti Raka (Clermont), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Keelan Giles (Ospreys)

Predicted pool winners Clermont

Opening fixtures Northampton v Saracens Sunday, 5.30pm; Ospreys v Clermont 5.30pm

Pool 3
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Exeter, Glasgow, Leinster, Montpellier

Perhaps the most intriguing pool of the lot. Exeter are the Premiership champions, have started the season well and are determined to make their mark in Europe. Montpellier, however, may just be the most intimidating team on the continent, boasting so much power with Louis Picamoles, Nemani Nadolo and the Du Plessis brothers, as well as the shrewd guidance of Ruan Pienaar and Aaron Cruden at half-back. And that’s before we come on to their coach, Vern Cotter. Leinster have won the European Cup three times and their impressive crop of youngsters will be all the better for their run to the semi-finals in 2016-17. Glasgow make up the group and, under Dave Rennie, they are the only unbeaten side in Europe’s top three leagues this season.

Players to watch Sam Simmonds (Exeter), Jack Conan (Leinster), Yacouba Camara (Montpellier)

Predicted pool winners Exeter

Opening fixtures Leinster v Montpellier Saturday, 1pm; Exeter v Glasgow 7.45pm

Pool 4
Castres, Leicester, Munster, Racing 92

A familiar-looking pool, with Leicester, Munster and Racing grouped together last season. Racing reached the final in 2016 but have gone off the boil since then, Munster and Leicester are both sides in transition and Castres are renowned for being poor travellers in Europe. It means this pool is wide open and, while Leicester’s much-vaunted backline is coming together nicely, there are concerns over their forward power on away trips to Paris and Limerick. It is likely that Munster will see the best of their new coach, Johann van Graan– who begins work next month – next season, so perhaps this is the term that the Tigers roar in Europe again. Or maybe even Castres if they can cure their travel sickness.

Players to watch Ellis Genge (Leicester), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Pat Lambie (Racing)

Predicted pool winners Leicester

Opening fixtures Racing v Leicester Saturday, 3.15pm; Castres v Munster Sunday, 1pm

Pool 5
Bath, Scarlets, Toulon, Treviso

With what is now the sole Italian team in the competition, this is supposed to be the most straightforward pool. But both Treviso and Zebre have chalked up some eye-catching wins so far this season. That said, it is hard not to see this pool as a three-horse race, with Scarlets having started the Pro14 in a similar vein to how they finished last term. Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking could also be key against his former team Toulon and one heavily linked with him over the summer, Bath. The latter have plenty of injury troubles and Freddie Burns’s suspension gives them a problem at fly-half, while Toulon are a fading force in Europe but still have a host of star names, including Chris Ashton.

Players to watch Sam Underhill (Bath), Steff Evans (Scarlets), Semi Radradra (Toulon)

Predicted pool winners Scarlets

Opening fixtures Bath v Treviso Saturday, 5.30pm; Toulon v Scarlets Sunday, 3.15pm

Guardian
 

Carlito

Academy Player
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Messages
70
ECC - Rugby 365 Preview and Team Naming



Friday, October 13

Pool One

Ulster v Wasps
(Kingspan Stadium - Kink-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)

Wasps have won five of the six meetings between the clubs, however, they've not met in Europe since the 2001/02 season.

Ulster's victory against Wasps in 2001/02 was their first against Premiership opposition in Europe. Including that match, Ulster have won 13 of their last 17 games against English opposition at Kingspan Stadium.

Ulster had the best line-out success rate in the competition last season with 96 percent.

Only Leinster (31) scored more tries in the pool stage last season than Premiership runners-up Wasps (28).

Wasps' Ashley Johnson and Ulster's Iain Henderson were two of just four players to make 50+ carries and 50+ tackles in last season's pool stage, along with Jonny Gray (Glasgow) and Remi Lamerat (Clermont).

The teams:

Ulster: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Luke Marshall, 12 Stuart McCloskey, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 John Cooney, 8 Jean Deysel, 7 Sean Reidy, 6 Robbie Diack, 5 Iain Henderson (captain), 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Kyle McCall.
Replacements: 16 John Andrew, 17 Callum Black, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Matty Rea, 20 Clive Ross, 21 Paul Marshall, 22 Pete Nelson, 23 Tommy Bowe.

Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Brendan Macken, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain) 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Marcus Watson.

Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant referees: Rhys Thomas (Wales), Wayne Davies (Wales)
TMO: Jon Mason (Wales)
 

Carlito

Academy Player
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Messages
70
Saturday, October 14

Pool Three

Leinster v Montpellier
(RDS Arena - Kick-off: 13.00; 14.00 GMT; 13.00 French time)

This will be the fifth meeting between the clubs.

Leinster have lost just one of the previous four, and won both previous home games against the 2016 Challenge Cup winners.

Leinster and Montpellier met in the pool stage last season with the home team on the day winning each encounter.

Leinster's 57-3 home win over the TOP 14 side was their second biggest in Europe (92-17 v Bourgoin in 2004/05).

Leinster's next try will be their 400th in the Champions Cup, a tally only Toulouse (452), Munster (412) and Leicester Tigers (410) have reached.

Leinster averaged more carries per game than any other side last season (149) and beat the most defenders per game of any side (27).

Montpellier's Nemani Nadolo made 14 clean breaks in the pool stage last season; no player made more - level with David Smith (Castres) and Wesley Fofana (Clermont).


Pool Four

Racing 92 v Leicester Tigers
(Stade Yves-Du-Manoir - Kick-off: 16.15; 14.15 GMT; 15.15 UK time)

The clubs have met three times previously with each of those encounters coming in the previous two seasons. Racing 92 won the 2016 semifinal at the City Ground, while the sides shared one win apiece during last season's pool stage.

The most recent meeting saw Leicester suffer their heaviest defeat against TOP 14 opposition, and their fifth heaviest overall (34-3).

Racing 92 have won three of their last four home games against Premiership opposition, this after losing their first four games when hosting English sides in the competition.

Racing's Brice Dulin made 23/23 tackles in last season's pool stage, the most of any back to not miss a single attempt.



Pool One

Harlequins v La Rochelle
(The Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 17.30; 18.30 French time; 16.30 GMT)

This will be the first meeting between the clubs.

La Rochelle are making their Champions Cup debut, becoming the 21st TOP 14 side to participate in the tournament.

Harlequins have won seven of their last nine games against TOP 14 opposition in the Champions Cup, losing only to ASM Clermont Auvergne (twice) in that run.

La Rochelle have faced Premiership opposition on 17 occasions in the Challenge Cup, winning just five of those matches.

La Rochelle averaged 10 missed tackles per game in the Challenge Cup last season, fewer than any other side.

La Rochelle's Kini Murimurivalu made 88 carries in last season's Challenge Cup, only Worcester's Matt Cox (100) made more.



Pool Five

Bath v Benetton
(The Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 17.30; 18.309 Italian time; 16.30 GMT)

This will be the fourth meeting between the sides with Bath winning two of the previous three games.

This will be their first encounter since the 2004/05 season.

Bath's defeat to Benetton in 2004/05 was their only loss to Italian opposition in Europe (including Challenge Cup) They've won 16 of 17 such games overall, including six of seven in the Champions Cup.

Benetton won their first away game against Premiership opposition in the European Cup, in November 1999 (v Harlequins). However, they've lost on all 14 trips to England since.

Bath have lost their last four pool games - they've never lost five in a row at this stage.

Semesa Rokoduguni averaged 5.7 defenders beaten per game in last season's Challenge Cup, more than any other player to have played more than once.


Pool Three

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)

This will be the third meeting between the clubs in Europe after they clashed in the 2013/14 pool stage.

Glasgow won both previous meetings, although Exeter claimed a losing bonus point on each occasion.

Glasgow have won just two of their 19 games away to Premiership opposition. However, both those victories have come in their last five trips to England.

Exeter have a 50 percent win rate against PRO14 opposition in the Champions Cup , with four of their six victories coming at Sandy Park.

During last season's pool stage, Exeter averaged 19 minutes and 36 seconds in possession per game - the most of any club.

The two top tacklers in last season's pool stage were both Glasgow players - Jonny Gray made the most (76), while Ryan Wilson made the second most (70).
 

Carlito

Academy Player
Joined
Oct 9, 2017
Messages
70
Sunday, October 15

Pool Four

Castres Olympique v Munster
(Stade Pierre Fabre - Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 UK time; 12.00 GMT)

This will be the 13th meeting between Castres and Munster in the European Cup, the most played fixture in the competition's history (currently level with Edinburgh v Toulouse on 12).

Munster have won nine of their previous 12 games against Castres, only two sides have beaten another team as often in the Champions Cup - Leicester Tigers (won 10 v Benetton) and Toulouse (won 10 v Edinburgh).

Castres are without a win in their last 10 games against Irish opposition, although they picked up a draw in their most recent such encounter against Leinster last season.

Munster conceded an average of just 13.3 points and 0.9 tries per game in the Champions Cup last season, fewer than any other side.

Munster's Billy Holland made 57/57 tackles last season, the most of any player to not miss a single attempt.



Pool Five

RC Toulon v Scarlets
(Stade Félix Mayol - Kick-off: 16.15; 15.15 UK time; 14.15 GMT)

The clubs have met four times previously in the Champions Cup with RC Toulon winning three of those games, although Scarlets won the most recent encounter.

Toulon have won 20 of their 21 home games in the Champions Cup, losing only to Saracens at Stade Félix Mayol in their opening game last season.

Scarlets have lost their last nine away games in the Champions Cup. However, their last away victory came in France against Racing 92 in the 2013/14 pool stage.

Scarlets averaged 136 tackles per game in the Champions Cup last season, more than any other side.

Of players to attempt 20+ kicks at goal in the competition last season, Rhys Patchell had the best success rate with 91 percent (21/23).



Pool Two

Northampton Saints v Saracens
(Franklin's Gardens - Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 GMT)

This will be the second meeting between the sides in the Champions Cup and the third in Europe overall. Both previous European encounters came in the knockout stage with Northampton winning a Challenge Cup semifinal in 2009 before Saracens had their revenge in the 2016 Champions Cup quarterfinal.

Saracens are unbeaten in their last 18 games; only Scarlets managed to avoid defeat to the reigning champions during that run.

Saints have lost just one of their last six home games; their four wins in that run all came by no more than seven points.

Saracens have won back-to-back ***les, and to date, only RC Toulon have managed to win the tournament three seasons in a row (2013, 2014 and 2015).

Owen Farrell - last season's top scorer (126) and EPCR European Player of the Year-needs just four points to reach 600 in the Champions Cup; only Ronan O'Gara, Stephen Jones, Dimitri Yachvili and Diego Dominguez have scored more.



Pool Two

Ospreys v ASM Clermont Auvergne
(Liberty Stadium - Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 UK time; 15.30 GMT)

The clubs have met six times previously with the home side on the day winning each of those six encounters.

The Ospreys have won their last three home games in the Champions Cup - the last time they went on a longer such run was between 2007 to 2011.

Clermont have won six of their last seven games against Welsh opposition, although their one defeat in that run did come in their most recent such fixture against the Ospreys in January 2016.

Clermont's next try will be their 300th in the Champions Cup; they scored 33 last season, the highest total by the club in a single campaign.

Osprey's Dan Biggar is just three points away from becoming the 10th player to score 500 points in the European Cup.
 
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