Heineken Cup Preview: Pool 3

Teams: Biarritz, Connacht, Harlequins, Zebre

McCafferty Unfairness Factor: Very high. Zebre didn’t even exist last season, and Connacht finished 8th in the Pro12 and got in due to Leinster’s heroics. Biarritz also got in the back door by winning the Amlin, so only Quins actually qualified of right.

Preview: Forewarned is forearmed for Quins here – they got mugged in Galway last year and it’s hard to see a repeat. Ditto for Biarritz, who lost in Aironi two years ago – the Zebre squad is largely the same, and the circumstances in which the Basques and Londoners won’t get four wins from the double bunnies are pretty hard to imagine. Biarritz are certainly more vulnerable, but they have oodles of experience in this competition.

Factor in a couple of home bonus points, and both of the big guns will expect to qualify – as well they should. Quins look better able to hoover up try bonus points, particularly away from home, so, if they split the head-to-heads, we would still expect to see the English champions emerge on top.

From a Connacht perspective, this pool presents both opportunities and threats – Zebre should easily be taken at home, but Zebre will see Connacht as their target for a home win as well. Strange as it may sound, if Elwood’s men come out of this with two wins over Zebre, they will feel disappointed.  We think that’s how it going to transpire – their other opponents look a little too streetwise to be beaten. On l’autre hand, if Connacht do beat one of the biggies, it will immediately supercede last year’s Quins results as their best ever European result. So, feast or famine, but them’s the margins at this level!

Verdict: Quins surprised us last season with their fortitude at the business end of the Premiership season, particularly after their meltdown in the Sportsground. That mental strength, allied to the genius of Nuck Ivans and the shrewd hand of Conor O’Shea, should steer them through as group winners and a home quarter final. Biarritz should come through on their coat tails as one of the wild cards. Connacht to do the double over Zebre – but that’s it.

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5 Comments

  1. Biarritz are very thin squadwise this year. Both their star players (Harinordoquy and Yachvilli) are out and they generally struggle without these two. I saw them lose their derby match against a very weak Bayonne side at home in Biarritz two weeks ago and they do not look to be in a good place. Will they even bother with Europe or be able to is a question that needs asking.

  2. I posted a lot on other fora earlier in the year about the total wrongheaded situation in Italy, where the federation shafted a potentially viable outfit in Aironi and set up a golden calf in the home town of the federation’s president. The start of the season does not bode well for Zebre or rugby in Italy – not just the results but, more importantly, the shockingly poor attendances for games. I hope for the global game that Zebre gets its turds together and that I am left to eat humble pie but it is not looking good.

    All of which means, Connacht could easily pick up 2-3 wins in this group. Abú.

    • Ultra Sur

       /  October 10, 2012

      I heard the same re Zebre/Parma and the president but never anything concrete. Wasn’t he also elected under dodgy circumstances?

      What were the other options considered? I’m fairly sure I saw a Roma Praetorian logo doing the rounds. Would have been great to have a Roman team

      Great stuff as usual WOC – Leinster, Toulon, Toulouse or Ulster for me. Can’t decide which but like the look of Ulster if they can keep their frontliners fit. Saints are overrated and a home quarter is in the offing. No-one will beat them at home, provided they don’t get Leinster (who seem to have the hoodoo over them). Then it’s the lottery of the semi with the carrot of a “home” final. If they play their cards right and get a bit of luck with the knock-outs…

      • The best option was to stick with Aironi! A good chunk had been invested in developing the franchise there and they were getting weekly turnouts in the thousands (better than a number of Celtic teams in the league).
        The ‘financial difficulties’ ostensibly given as reason for the federation pulling the plug were in fact primarily (a) the failure of the main sponsor Banca Montepaschi to deliver its sponsorship funding and (b) the failure of the Parma-based clubs in the franchise to deliver their share of the funding for the season. The latter is particularly cynical when you see where the franchise is now based.
        However, once the decision was made to axe Aironi (which was dubious as it is hard to see where you would get a better home support base and – apart from a few hundred Leinster supporters – fans don’t travel to away games in the Pro12), there were a number of better options than Parma – a city with very successful sports clubs (football, volleyball, American football) but a limited rugby following.
        Its off topic, so I won’t go on but I hope it does not turn out to be a major step back for the game in Italy and Europe.

      • Ultra Sur

         /  October 10, 2012

        Ah Italians, the more things change… Cheers for the response

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