The big European club competition is back! This is 1 that we always look forward to as it’s the top European clubs going head to head. Here’s my preview/prediction for the tournament.
How does it all work?
The great thing is that there is no change to last season (as far as I’m aware at least). So it’s 5 pools of 4 teams that play each other home and away. The winners of the pools plus the best 3 runners-up get to make it into the quarter-finals. There’s a whole bunch of stuff around seeding for home games in the finals but by then it’s just about enjoying massive encounters. The final will be at Murrayfield on the 13th of May.
All the pools should be tough in this competition but unfortunately there has to be an Italian team and not all teams keep their form from last year. That means not all pools are created equal and this is 1 of the tougher pools.
Racing have not started the season well and have drugs scandal to deal with as well. Several of their players have been accused of using a substance without a TUE and we will just have to see how the authorities deal with this. They can’t afford a slow start in this competition so will have to up their game quickly.
Warriors were looking great but injuries in their forwards has led to a couple of recent losses. They are a side that can hurt anyone in Europe on their day but can they string enough performances together?
Tigers have started the season well even if they have been a bit fragile in defence and not always put 80 minutes together. They can’t afford to be lax in these games.
Munster have also been looking much better under Erasmus and have all the history in this competition.
It’s a really hard 1 to call as all these sides can beat each other on their day and it will come down to consistency.
Connacht looked so good in the Pro12 last season but it’s all fallen apart a bit this time around. They did pick up a good victory ver Ulster last weekend and maybe will cause an upset but I can’t see them progressing on this seasons form.
That means it’s a 2 horse race between Wasps and Toulouse with them both probably progressing as Zebre will offer up a couple of TBP wins to pad their points totals. Wasps have been irresistible in attack so I’m going for them to top Toulouse who have been bit shaky at times this season.
There’s not an easy game in this group but the top 2 teams have the pedigree and squads that mean that they should make it to the knockouts. That’s harsh on Scarlets who were good but just came up short in the Pro12 last season but they have struggled this time out. Also Sale will go well at home and might cause an upset but I can’t see them getting the away points that they need.
Saracens have been looking great again as a unit. Whilst Toulon have dragged themselves up to fourth in the Top14 they have look more fallible this season so I’m backing them to be a best runner-up.
This is another pool that I think we will be seeing 2 teams qualifying from. Castles are down in eleventh in the Top14 and will be saving players to make sure they don’t get sucked into the relegation battle. Saints just haven’t shown the finesse to go far in this competition and their power play just won’t be enough.
So it comes down to the order of Leinster and Montpellier. Leinster have been going well again this season with just the odd hiccup. Montpellier had a poor start but the Challenge Cup champions have turned things around and I think that they will have too much power for Leinster to handle.
Clermont get the opportunity to gain revenge on Exeter who dumped them out of the competition last season. This time around Exeter have not hit their straps and are taking some time to find their best form. Clermont on the other hand are top the Top14 having only lost 1 game.
Ulster are another side that’s been going well with only 1 loss but they have disappointed me so often in Europe that I don’t have faith that they will pull it off anymore. Losing at Connacht at the weekend just reinforced that feeling. Bordeaux are a decent side but I think Top14 glory will be their priority and here they are making up the numbers even if they might win their home games.
So that means I’m predicting the following teams to make it into the QFs:
Racing 92 Wasps Toulouse Saracens Toulon Montpellier Leinster Clermont
If I have all of those right, it will be a miracle but it’s fun to have a go. Have a read of the replies to my #RugbyChat tweet to see who people think will win the while thing.
Please do join in with my prediction league on SuperBru.
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