We got all of a weeks breather between the Rugby World Cup and the kickoff of the premier Northern Hemisphere club competition. Here is my tournament preview/prediction.
We are now into the second season of the new European competitions. That means we don’t have a big change in the setup with the main difference being that the knockout stages are later in the season. From a playing point of view the biggest impact will be on the English teams who’s season has started later due to the Rugby World Cup. This has meant that the LV=Cup will not take place this season and there are no opportunities to rest players. This might impact how some clubs approach this competition.
Oyonnax have struggled this season and I fully expect them to see this competition as a complete distraction. I fully expect them to be resting players and come last in the group.
Amongst the other three it’s going to be a really tough tussle. Toulouse have won the top tier European competition more than anyone else. They might not have tasted success recently but they kicked the season off well. Saracens have never won this competition but they have been at the sharp end for the last three seasons and have also started well this season. Ulster have had a more rocky start to the season and might not have progressed as much as the other sides over the last couple seasons. I think this is between Saracens and Toulouse, whilst I’m going with Saracens it’s not with much confidence.
ASM Clermont Auvergne 1st
Exeter Chiefs 2nd
Clermont are the clear favourites for this group and with their good start to the season I can’t see them slipping up. Of the other three I think that Bordeaux will be concentrating on domestic matter and so be dangerous at home and sending B sides away. Exeter should concentrate on domestic matters but it’s not in their nature even so I expect some players will be rested but not whole scale. Ospreys have had a shocking start to the season but we should see some improvement as their internationals are reintegrated. It’s really easy to see the three sides taking points off each other and so not making it through to the knockout stages.
This is a group that I’m finding hard to call which means straight away that the second place team is unlikely to make it through. On initial viewing Scarlets are the side that you would expect to struggle in this group. However they have started the season very strongly and may be able to upset one of the other sides in the opening rounds. I hear that they are likely to slip back as all the players from the Rugby World Cup start turning out for their clubs so I’m not expecting them to be able to sustain this form.
Of the other three it is a bit of a coin flip, Warriors are the Pro12 champions and have been improving over the last few seasons. Saints topped the Aviva Premiership table last year even though they have started slowly in this campaign. Finally Racing have the great Dan Carter arriving soon who will be wanting to win silverware. I’m going to back Glasgow to put in a sustained European challenge but wouldn’t be surprised to see either of the other two top the group.
Benetton Treviso 12th
Leicester Tigers 4th
Munster Rugby 2nd
Stade Francais Paris 11th
Treviso are clearly going to come last and give up easy points in this group so there is a good chance of two teams making it into the quarter finals. With Stade struggling in the Top14 I think that this will very much be a second priority. They might be able to get away with that in another group but here they are up against two of the European rugby aristocracy. Both Tigers and Munster have started the season well and will have the European knockout stages in their plans. I expect that they will both make the quarter finals and it’s a matter of which order they finish. I think the Irishmen will top the group as they have some rest weekends and so should be fresher come the latter group rounds.
Bath Rugby 5th
Leinster Rugby 4th
RC Toulon 6th
A bit like Pool 2 it’s what order are the teams going to finish behind Toulon? Toulon haven’t had a great start to the season but as they get all their stars back it will be business as usual.
Looking at the other three any of them could do well. Leinster have the European pedigree but are under a new coach. Bath and Wasps had good seasons last year that they will be looking to build upon. Bath are disrupted by the whole Burgess affair and Wasps will want to concentrate on making the Premiership playoffs. That and Leinster’s ability to always get out of the group mean I think they will come second.
So that means I’m predicting the following teams to make it into the QFs:
Saracens Toulouse ASM Clermont Glasgow Warriors Leinster Rugby Leicester Tigers RC Toulon Munster Rugby
If I have all of those right, it will be a miracle but it’s fun to have a go.
Please do join in with my prediction league on SuperBru.