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Champions Cup - essential guide to premier club tournament

by 12/10/2017 19:00:00 0 comments 1 Views
  • Wasps and Quins face tough test in Pool One with Ulster and La Rochelle 
  • Holders Saracens begin campaign with a trip to English rivals Northampton
  • Last season’s finalists, Clermont and Saracens, will meet in the pool stage

By Chris Foy for the Daily Mail

Published: 17:55 EDT, 12 October 2017 | Updated: 19:00 EDT, 12 October 2017

The quest for the biggest prize in European club rugby kicks off this weekend as 20 teams begin their campaigns in the Champions Cup.

Holders Saracens begin their bid for a hat-trick of Champions Cup triumphs with a trip to English rivals Northampton.

Sportsmail's CHRIS FOY provides the essential guide to the Champions Cup. 

Charles Piutau (above) is to become the highest paid player in world rugby next year
Charles Piutau (above) is to become the highest paid player in world rugby next year

Charles Piutau (above) is to become the highest paid player in world rugby next year

Current league position in brackets
Current league position in brackets

Current league position in brackets

POOL ONE

What to expect

All four teams have a chance of qualifying from a wide-open pool. 

Wasps would be favourites to progress but are beset by injuries, so their opening fixtures against Ulster and Quins are crucial. Quins remain inconsistent but have demonstrated a harder edge this season and are inspired by new No 10 sensation Marcus Smith. 

Ulster are a huge force at home but their recent defeat by Treviso suggests vulnerability on the road, while La Rochelle have abundant power and attacking flair but their primary focus is likely to be the Top 14.

Player to watch

Charles Piutau (Ulster) The electric former All Black full-back has made such an impact since moving to Europe that Bristol have agreed to pay him close to £1million a year from next season.

Best atmosphere

La Rochelle fans are acquiring a reputation for their fervent support. Home games are always sold out.

Current league position in brackets
Current league position in brackets

Current league position in brackets

POOL TWO

What to expect

The collision of last season’s finalists, Clermont and Saracens, will illuminate the pool stage. 

The French club are struggling but that does not mean they will be easy to beat at their home fortress — where English fliers Nick Abendanon and David Strettle continue to thrive. 

Saracens will miss Billy Vunipola for the first four rounds at least, but have plenty of tournament pedigree. Few would bet against them retaining the title. 

Northampton are resurgent in the Premiership but may lack the firepower to be contenders, while Ospreys are in a tailspin.

Player to watch

PECELI YATO (Clermont) The Fiji flanker is a dynamic attacking asset in Clermont’s formidable pack. He has the pace and off-loading skills of an outside back.

Best atmosphere

Clermont’s fabled Yellow Army are the best supporters in Europe. The Bib Park is unsurpassed for colour and noise.

Sam Simmonds' form for Exeter in the early stages of this season has been stunning
Sam Simmonds' form for Exeter in the early stages of this season has been stunning

Sam Simmonds' form for Exeter in the early stages of this season has been stunning

Current league position in brackets
Current league position in brackets

Current league position in brackets

POOL THREE

What to expect

All four teams take domestic momentum into the opening weekend. Montpellier have major South African clout and the predatory presence of giant Fiji wing Nemani Nadolo. Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter is showing early signs of adding substance to potential. As champions of England, Exeter are determined to become a European force, and are buoyed by Henry Slade’s revival in midfield, but they have their work cut out.

Leinster have done it all before and Glasgow will fly the flag for Scotland after reaching the quarter-finals last year.

Player to watch

Sam Simmonds (Exeter) His form at No 8 in the early stages of this season has been stunning. Prolific try-scorer armed with speed and slick footwork.

Best atmosphere

Dublin has embraced rugby, so Leinster draw big crowds, especially at the Aviva Stadium. Blue flags and shirts abound.

Current league position in brackets
Current league position in brackets

Current league position in brackets

POOL FOUR

What to expect 

Leicester and Munster are two of the heavyweight teams in the history of European competition, but both have been in transition. The Tigers have a semblance of stability after last season’s upheaval and four successive wins suggest they are on the rise again, aided by the belated availability of Matt Toomua and the addition of Jonny May’s finishing. Munster’s early results are encouraging but they are in flux. Castres are likely to be no more than dangerous outsiders, but Racing — beaten finalists in 2016 — have the class to finish top.

Player to watch 

PAT LAMBIE (Racing) 

The gifted playmaker was recruited to fill a void left by Johan Goosen. Once seen as the answer to South Africa’s prayers at No 10 before heading overseas. 

Best atmosphere 

Thomond Park, for its stirring Stand Up and Fight anthem and that banner: ‘Irish by birth, Munster by the grace of God.’

Current league position in brackets
Current league position in brackets

Current league position in brackets

POOL FIVE

What to expect 

It is five years since a Welsh region reached the last eight, but the Scarlets will hope to build on their title success by taking this pool by storm with their attacking rugby. The Llanelli-based side may even finish top. Bath have the tools to mount a strong challenge, providing their injury list doesn’t grow. Chris Ashton is the new weapon in Toulon’s extraordinary array of talent, but the French side must prove they can amount to the sum of their parts. Treviso have been competitive enough in the Pro14 to suggest they will not just serve as cannon fodder.

Player to watch

STEFF EVANS (Scarlets) 

Three tries already this season for the rapid wing — Scarlets’ top try scorer last year — who is being tipped for a big future with Wales. Evans made his Test debut against Tonga in June and a week later touched down twice to help his country win in Samoa.

Best atmosphere

Toulon’s Stade Felix Mayol reverberates to the pre-match ‘Pilou pilou’ chant and newspapers are torn up and hurled into the air in celebration of victory.

 

 

 

 

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