New Broom

As Gerry might say, plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. The brand-new European rugby tournament is here, and it’s … err .. completely different. For example, it’s got a better TV deal – oh no, wait, just a French domestic one and a UK/Ireland one where fans aren’t sure what package they need to see their team on a given week – ok, more commercial clout – wait, off that, same sponsor – better governance? – same staff, but in non-cowboy country – well, that’s something. Phew!

On field, we’re down from 24 to 20 teams, having chopped some of the chaff (Connacht, Cardiff, Embra and the Zebras) and that’s no bad thing. We’ve been left with a couple of stonking pools (1 and 3) but, to be fair, there are also a couple of duds in there (2 and possibly 4). We still see three teams as going oh-from-six (Treviso, Scarlets and Sale) and three others as having essentially no chance of progression (Wasps, Castres, Racing Metro) – meaning an expected knockout stage lineup as very similar to the last couple of years. We reckon you’ll have 6 of last years quarter finalists back in April for the runoff and, presumably much to McCafferty’s chagrin, three of them will be Irish! Whoop-de-whoop. So here goes this year’s flight of fancy (or maybe not, we got seven right last year):

Pool 1 (Globo Gym, Munster, Clermont, Sale Sharks):

Three of last year’s four semi-finalists – this is one tough pool. Saracens and Clermont are top of their respective leagues, and Munster will need all of their fabled Europan cup nous to get out of this one.  When two of the three met last year, Saracens made mincemeat of Clermont, winning by 40 points. That could be relevant here as Clermont are not the strongest mentally. It’s hard to see the Sharks winning a game – they are languishing in the Boshiership and are a clear level below the rest. They aren’t an intimidating presence, even at home, and are bonus point fodder. This could easily see the big three trade home wins with two qualifiers decided by bonus points. Saracens look to have the best recent history here (runners up in HEC and Premiership last year) and are the easiest to back as the most likely to win at Munster or the Marcel Michelin. After that, if it came down to a Munster vs Clermont HEC-off in front of teary, rabid  fans, we’d back Munster. Just.

Prediction: Saracens to win (70% confidence level), Munster to qualify as runners-up (50.01% confidence level)

Pool 2 (Leinster, Castres, Harlequins, Wasps):

An utter dud of a pool – Leinster are playing like drains and struggling with a gameplan, on-pitch direction and a lengthy injury list. If they had Munster’s draw, we’d give them virtually no chance of making it through, but they don’t – they have a bit of a gimme. Castres are in the Top14 nether regions, and rarely give a hoot about Europe, and Wasps will be playing in front of zero fans and are reliant on Andy Goode – those two are out. Quins have something about them and are a tough nut to crack at the Stoop, but it’s hard to see them doubling up on the bunnies. They haven’t quite pushed on since their glorious championship-winning season, though any team with Danny Care and Nick Evans at half-back has to be at least useful.  If Leinster can win in Castres in round two then they are on the path.  Where Quins will be dangerous is in the race for second place against Munster – if they win four games, they’ll be in the mix – the brave and the faithful should be cheering full-throated for a pair of Leinster whuppings. Leinster may not hit top gear but they have the experience to deal with this lot.

Prediction: Leinster to win (95% confidence level)

Pool 3 (Toulon, Leicester, Ulster, Scarlets):

Pool of death! Scarlets are the bunnies here – they are <insert patronising platitude here> but are beatable at home and consider defence optional. They are capable of pulling one outrageous win out of the bag, but we’re expecting them to be whitewashed.  Of the three remaining, one are double European and reigning Top14 champions, one have been bridesmaids so many times they are in danger of becoming the Northampton Saints, and one are an injury-addled shadow of their former selves. Toulon are deservedly tournament favourites, and they are unlikely to become unstuck here – they could field two teams that would win this pool, and are good enough to beat anyone. We have covered Ulster already, and first up is the best time to play Leicester away – Barnesy feels Ulster are tournament dark horses, and they have enough tough wins in the European locker (Leicester home and away, Montpellier away, Clermont home, Saints away, Munster away) to warrant some faith here. They have shown themselves adept at getting through the pool stages, but have lost their heads in knockout games with exasperating frequency.  Time to deliver, boys.

Prediction: Toulon to win (80% confidence level), Ulster to qualify as runners-up (70% confidence level)

Pool 4 (Glasgow, Montpellier, Ooooooooooooooooooooooooohhh Bath, Toulouse)

This is a very interesting pool – unlike the previous three, there is no standout team here, and you can make a coherent case for each to qualify. The least coherent case is probably the Montpellier one – they are down a couple of forwards from two years ago, and Francois Trinh-Duc is out until 2015 – they gave up on the HEC after losing to Ulster at home last year, and might not be bothered. We’d dearly love to tip Glasgow to make the breakthrough – great for the Pro12 and a very likeable team addicted to high-risk, watchable rugby – but they have three tough away games ahead, and we can’t quite bring ourselves to back them in any of them. Potential is there, and the pool is up for grabs, but they’ll need to show us something new. Bath are flying high-ish in the Boshiership, marshalled by the quicksilver George Ford, but one feels dirty mucky French packs won’t quite be to their liking – they looked primed to be arm-wrestled out of it. Which leaves European aristocrats ™ boring bosh merchants Toulouse. Which team will show up – the one who beat Saracens twice, or the one who lost at home to Connacht and bent the knee in Thomond? Either way, they have the quality in their squad and consistent experience of just topping the pool to prevail here.

Prediction: Toulouse to win (60% confidence level)

Pool 5 (Northampton Saints, Racing Metro, Hairsprays, Treviso)

Let’s start with the easy bit – Treviso won’t win a game. The Saints look the best team here – they (finally) won the Premiership last year and are riding high again – in the last three years, they have come unstuck against Irish teams at home, this time around the draw is kinder and a quarter-final beckons. For the runners-up slot and (we reckon) the last place in the knockouts it’s red-hot young fearless Ospreys, with a pair of excellent halves, versus behemoth bosh-heavy moneybags Racing Metro. The Parisians are without Jonny Sexton for the opening rounds, and are really tough to have any confidence in – we’d like the Spreys to continue their recent form and get back to the knockout stages.  Backing them to transfer their Pro12 form to Europe has been a losing trade in recent years, but maybe this time it will be different?

Prediction: Saints to win (90% confidence level), Ospreys to qualify as runners-up (70% confidence level)

So there you have it – out go Leicester and Clermont and in come the Saints and the Ospreys. The group winners are mucking in for the all-important home draw – and without knowing who has that prize in the bag, or the home semi-final draw, picking winners is a fools errand. We will say this though, given the Saints pool, and the guaranteed 10 points from Benetton, they will expect a home draw – and they are a decent bet at 13/2.

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44 Comments

  1. Cian

     /  October 14, 2014

    I can’t agree that the Irish teams are set to do well in Europe this year, lads. I wish I could, but it looks to me that all three are a few players short of the level previously attained and that Sarries, Saints, Toulon, and possibly Clermont and Bath will be able to play at. Leinster have a solid pack, missing any superstars but still very strong, and are below par outside that. Munster are actually a bit similar, less depth in the pack and more talent out wide but it amounts to more or less the same. Ulster are flying high so far and have a cornucopia from 11 to 15, but you can’t help but think their depth from 1 to 10 is potentially… well, not very deep.

    I reckon that, for an Irish team to do well (and our standards are such that doing well means at least a semi-final against eventual winners) it’ll take the emergence of a handful of new stars. Either the likes of TOD, Foley, Hurley and [insert uninjured Munster hooker] producing consistently over the tournament, the Leinster back line clicking and some of their back row talent getting on song, or the Ulster pack remaining solid and their backline fulfilling on their promise is required to compete with the big boys. I would, pessimistically perhaps, say that chances are at most one of the three will come good this year.

    That said, I don’t really disagree with your pool predictions in any significant way, other than calling Bath to beat Toulouse to top spot. I think it’s in the quarters onwards that the Irish will mostly come unstuck.

    • That’s fair – and we’d agree – any Irish going beyond the QF would feel like over-achievement.

      • Uncle Joe would love that – his players competitive and battle-hardened but out of harms way half-way through Spring.

    • zdm

       /  October 14, 2014

      Don’t let the SkyTV propaganda get in to your heads, Sarries are the only GP team that are consistently good enough to cause any fear for the Irish teams. Despite what Barnsey would have you believe, the GP is a pile of shite until the end of the season with early 00’s tactics still the norm.

      Toulon and Sarries are the sides to beat this year but if I were to rank the teams in the tournament, I’d have the three Irish teams next up.

  2. Here’s my prediction: all the French teams bar Toulon dead and buried by Christmas, with the British & Irish Cup-like quarter finals lineup presaging calls in France to drop out of the competition in 2018 in favour of an expanded Top 16.

    • Cian

       /  October 14, 2014

      I’d agree that’s a distinct possibility. If the first part does come true (and the best chance of avoiding it is Clermont beating Munster or Toulouse sneaking through), I’d say the second part is almost certain to. All the more so as the Super Duper ERCC hasn’t even got its house in order yet, and so isn’t exactly an enticing prospect for the French to remain allied to.

  3. Must say, I think you’ve gotten it the wrong way around between Quins and Wasps. Going on their respective starts to the year, Wasps look the danger in that group for Leinster.

    Nick Evans is on the wane big time and Quins are retreating towards the mid ground of the Aviva.
    Wasps have recruited well and look like a good solid pack. Loss of Jackson to injury could be key, but they have the outside backs to do damage given a chance.

    They demolished Bath up front at the weekend (led by 29 with 30 mins gone). Davies, Launchbury, Johnson, Haskell, Hughes is a good solid 4-8 too.

  4. I have been critical of MO’C essentially since Madigan was left carrying the can for the Leinster defeat in Thomond a year ago. Whether or which, he does seem finally to be coming around to the realisation, that Mads might well be his best choice at 10 as opposed to JG. He would also seem to have a plan, even if it’s not always apparent. I have been impressed by the way Kane Douglas has gone about his business since he joined. Mixing it up with Paulie is certainly one way to get your team mates to pick up their game. I had a look at the NRL final between the Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs – in which the much-maligned Lote Tiquiri played, fancy that! – and like the look of Ben Te’o. If he can acclimatise himself to his new surroundings as well as KD has done, it could do wonders for our backline and prove to have been a very clever signing. I wouldn’t be quite as confident as WoC of Leinster qualifying from group 2. Wasps were in fine fettle last weekend and we will have our work cut out to make sure we don’t stumble at the first hurdle. p.s. Ulster were fantastic against Glasgow. Rory and the rest of the pack put in a serious shift. Hopefully they’ll repeat the performance v Leicester.

    • Dat maul in open play, who even does that these days?! It was a thing of beauty, and showed that we can do our homework.

      Still a few niggles, but it’ll be interesting to see how we get on with PJ coming back in (and please don’t let Alan O’Connor miss this weekend). Olding had a pretty quiet night for once I noticed, I think he’d be better deployed in the centres against Leicester, whether starting alongside McCloskey or coming off the bench.

      • Stephen

         /  October 14, 2014

        Tbf Olding was only on for about 10 minutes, once the game was won . . .

  5. I have a special place in my heart for Toulouse, the town, the history, Trevor Brennan so on and so forth but I would love Glasgow to come out of that group. Really admire the way they go about their business. Haven’t watched enough Toulouse in the Top 14 this season but think it’s a definite possibility. Having said that, as seen this weekend, I think they’re a well-coached side who are short of a superstar or two needed to make the breakthrough at the next level.

    Regarding the Irish teams, I like where your heads are at but I am extremely nervous about ending up with bupkis this season. I know in terms of the RWC it mightn’t be the worst thing in the world but that’s always scant consolation at the time. Ulster are probably the best placed but they need to be consistent.

  6. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of Tigers side pitches up at Ravenhill early next year.

    1) You’d think they’ll be back to close to full strength
    2) They’ll be looking for some revenge for at least one defeat at Welford Road

    I do think we have enough about us at the minute to make the knockout stages, and I’m cautiously optimistic about making it to the semis, provided we can avoid injuries/red cards/pigs flying etc. I was frankly pretty nervous about the Glasgow match, but we seem to be taking an almost Schmidt-esque approach to identifying an opposition’s gameplan, figuring out how to counter it, and executing on it. Obviously we have a ways to go yet (this was the first real performance of the season, plus we could have had at least a couple of extra tries via Bowe), but momentum is a wonderful thing.

  7. I, too, feel the Irish trio are not in a strong position this year.

    Leinster have the best squad of the three (and in the Pro12), but their two best players (and ball carriers, of which they do not have a plethora) are injured, and they look aimless with the ball – which is an amazing fall from grace.

    Munster were very feisty in the Aviva, but we’ve seen little of them. However, Foley is still a big question mark IMO – a better place than Leinster, where O’Connor seems to have come up with his answer and it’s not very good. Question marks can cut both ways – but their squad is fairly thin in almost every position. An injury-free 23 looks good but a handful of knocks and tears in the right (wrong) places and the cracks look geological.

    Ulster have a lot of talent in the squad, but our enormous depth from 11-15 – even if some of those guys haven’t played that much and still therefore need to show consistency – simply isn’t matched elsewhere. Paul Marshall is playing well at nine but has implosion potential, while Ian Humphreys can hurt teams when we have the ball, and hurt us when they have it. Second row is the major issue – with O’Connor cited we are on full Stevenson alert, with a side order of McComb on the bench (the latter worries me much more than the former, LS isn’t that bad, but we’ve Tigers and Toulon in the next fortnight…).

  8. SportingBench

     /  October 14, 2014

    Echo the previous comments. Sadly I think this is a bit optimistic for all 3 provinces who are either in transition or without key players. Worst thing is I can see none of the Irish provinces qualifying for the knockout stages and an avalanche of UK articles talking about how the “inherent advantage” Irish Provinces had, has been smashed yada yada yada.
    Personally I think the IRFU have are resting players, getting them under the knife if they need to at all, now, with a view to a clean run in to the WC. This coupled with the normal run of injuries, new coaches at Munster & Ulster, the end of a cycle at Leinster with retirements and aging of key players, is just a perfect storm and not a long term decline. Very frustrating timing though.

  9. Rava

     /  October 14, 2014

    Larry, we could always move Diack to lock (he played well there last year) and bring Wilson in at 6.

    • Only problem with that solution is that suddenly we have either Clive Ross or Charlie Butterworth on the bench, which with Nick currently going through a bit of a disciplinary purple patch isn’t the best competitive debut for either (not counting Ross’ few minute cameo until Fitzpatrick punched him off the park indirectly). I’d rather have a full strength back row unit with a weak lock than a weakened engine room, a not-quite full strength back row with a larger performance deficit sitting on the bench.

    • Stephen

       /  October 14, 2014

      Diack is not much of a scrummaging lock, either.

    • Rava, that’s true – and with Wilson at six that’s maybe the easiest way to get the best available players in the starting team. However, I’d have the same worries Tran and Stephen have suggested above… overall, it’s not a very happy option – but then I don’t think there is a very happy option at the minute.

  10. hulkinator

     /  October 14, 2014

    I think Irish teams are still better than the English teams and French. Only Toulon stand out but Ulster can still top that group. International are back earlier this season for round one so Irish teams will go into it well prepared unlike previous years.

    Can’t see any basis for all the pessimism besides Leinster injuries but they got the easiest group.

    So once again expect to see one or two Irish semi finalists.

  11. osheaf01

     /  October 14, 2014

    Pedant alert: you’re clearly not as “au fait” with French as Jirry Thornley, making such a basic error as “le meme chose”…c’est la meme chose, monsieur!

  12. D6W

     /  October 14, 2014

    Agree with the Munster and Ulster predictions, but I think WoC being wildly optimistic about Leinster.

    I cannot see us beating any team that have a reasonable defence. We are currently making to many basic errors when in the attacking zone. And as many have commented before, what is our game plan? Where does MOC expect the tries to come from? We simply do not have any facet of our game that we do exceptionally well at, either in set piece or open play. Leinster seem unconvincing at everything they do at the moment.

    I am afraid that Pool 2 will be a Wasps Quinns 1 2, and this will be a lost year for Leinster.

    • I remember a quality Leinster side losing one opening home fixture to London Irish and struggling against Exeter the following year.
      This side are not on a par with recent ones so if they trip up against Wasps on Saturday , it is very unlikely that they will battle back in the later rounds.
      I agree with you – I would be around 50.01% confident.

  13. curates_egg

     /  October 14, 2014

    Unless there is some massive turnaround, it is hard to see how Leinster will start well. Apart from the woeful structure and skills, there is the continuing plethora of injuries. Even if Castres are also struggling, they are at home and will be fired up after last year’s loss. That group could be a real ugly dogfight and it could be a long season for Leinster.

    Hard to see Munster getting of that group, despite your optimism. Axel might be best served to try and shift the mentality of the outfit and supporters around to a tilt at the Pro12 for a change. Heinous though that is in Thomond.

    Ulster look like the only province with half a chance but will again be in a scrap with Leicester for the second place. Given all the upheaval, it might be too much to ask.

    Quite possible we will have no Irish teams in the quarters.

  14. Lop12

     /  October 14, 2014

    I think Ulster have a chance in their pool. Win at the weekend is a distinct possibility, win all three home games a distinct possibility and hope Toulon dont show up away to Tigers. That should win the pool.

    Massively optimistic or wha!!

  15. paddyo

     /  October 14, 2014

    No mention of the amlin! 🙂 Err I mean the challenge(d) cup? Without qualification what exactly does this competition offer? Other than being some kind of purgatory for the lower classes. Seems a fair bit removed from some of the comment at the time of what this new broom would bring.

    Ah the politicking of this is just depressing, it’s nauseating to start a tournament feeling it’s already all over and the good guys….lost. Anyway,on the pitch ulster really need to start with 2 wins or they are in diffs, leinster should have the quality (a season can change very quickly in 80 mins), although I find myself nodding in agreement with curate’s egg-it’s hard to back that up with any recent evidence. Munster will need a massive effort and probably a charmed season injuries wise, but could still pull it off. Hard to believe that all 3 will manage it, but it is just the same teams as they have all beaten before, under a different name. Actually under the same name.

  16. There are far to many ifs about Leinster to be in any way optimistic. If we pick the right team, if we pick a game plan (anything other than kick aimlessly to the opposition back three would do), if we don’t get any more injuries (especially in the front row where we’re already looking at 2nd choice loose and 3rd choice tight unless Ross recovers), if Ben T’eo makes the transition and becomes a half way decent union player, if we get some players back from injury. Honestly I think we’ll see MOC revert to Gopperth at 10 for Sundays game with mads at 12 which would mean we’re one injury away from another round of the MOC shuffle. The only possible bright side to the abysmal season we’re facing into is that it would probably seal MOCs fate. Think I’m turning into this years harbinger of doom and gloom. Must try harder to be positive.

  17. I had a look at Clermont and Saracens’ squads there, just to refamiliarise myself. A man-for-man comparison and a rational assessment would suggest Munster are doomed, but my gut says that we have a good chance. A win this weekend, three home wins, and maybe a couple of bonus points picked up along the way (at home against Sale and away against Clermont maybe?) and we should be alright. That’s a big ask, but it should be achievable if key players stay fit; Munster at their best in Thomond Park tend to be a match for almost anyone, notwithstanding the fact that other sides are often stacked with more talent. I think a 50.01% confidence rating is about right.

    Despite what the internet might have you believe, Leinster haven’t turned from a Pro12-winning side into an awful one overnight. Munster get huge amounts of stick for not taking the Pro12 seriously enough, but the reality is that Leinster aren’t as energised by it either; they just get away with it on their off-days because their strength in depth is that much greater and they’re less reliant on emotional energy to reach a high level of performance. They haven’t gotten away with it as much the case this season for a variety of reasons, all of which have been discussed to death here. I would still be completely flabbergasted if Leinster didn’t do enough to grind out that pool (although it may be more difficult than it appears on paper).

    Ulster are in a similar situation to Munster in that their first game is almost make-or-break stuff. This is the ideal time to be facing Leicester at Welford Road, but it’s never easy, and not having Ruan Pienaar to bring with you is a massive loss when you consider he scored all 22 points in last season’s away win. It’ll be a big test for Paddy Jackson, and one I think he’ll pass if his pack provide him with the necessary platform.

    Basically, I agree with all your predictions on the Irish provinces, but that may just be delusional optimism. It certainly seems to me though that a lot of commenters on here are making their calls based on a general sense of malaise rather than an individual assessment of the pools. But whatever, we’ll find out soon enough.

    Meanwhile, apparently Connacht are going to go after the Challenge Cup (or whatever it’s called) full-throttle. An interesting decision seeing how it’s been massively devalued by not serving as a qualifier for the big competition, but if you think that winning is a habit and that they really have developed some squad depth, maybe a good one. Their Pro12 efforts and squad depth will be given a huge boost by the arrivals of McCartney, Muliaina, and Aki, the latter of whom we should be seeing fairly soon, so they could pick up further momentum over the next couple of months. Right now I’m feeling very positively disposed toward that but if they keep it up and are breathing down Munster’s necks in the latter stages of the Pro12 I could be less sanguine…

    • I’m really wondering what is the point of Connacht going after the Challenged Cup. Indeed, whether any team will be bothered other than using it as a run-out for their academy. Removing the Champions Cup place previously available in the HEC for Amlin winners means the competition really has very little significance . The prize money for the Amlin was derisory and apparently it is now even less.

      Would Connacht not be better off concentrating on the Pro12? I think this is one of their best, if not the best start to the season and the Pro12/AP/T14 play-off provides an additional way into the Champions Cup for teams missing out on automatic qualification. I don’t think Connacht has it in them to finish above any of the other Irish provinces, Glasgow or Ospreys but finishing above the 3 other Welsh teams would mean they qualify by right.

    • It seems we are in agreement, thoughtless. It looks a classic four-wins-each pool with bonus points deciding it. At the risk of saying something very trite and applying some soft logic, Munster tend to come out just the right side of those sort of situations, while Clermont can be relied upon to somehow make a hash of things.

      There is an element of Clermont coming in a little under the radar this year. They flunked out of both the H-Cup and Top 14 playoffs in implosive style last year, and are more or less written off as a result. Perhaps it will suit them a bit better?

      • That (four wins each with BPs deciding the pool’s fate) is definitely the most likely scenario, and heightens my nerves for Saturday (1pm kick-off, ugh). Clermont are probably being discounted too early, but I think there’s a possibility that their mental edge over opponents is gone or nearly gone, what with Saracens having demolished them last year, Munster having gone extremely close in the south of France the year before, and with both Castres and Montpellier having won in Stade Marcel Michelin in the last few months. That away trip won’t have the same sense of impossibility attached to it, and while they’ll obviously be favourites at home (heavy favourites in Munster’s case), I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of possibility anymore that they could lose there.

        Of course, conversely, a trip to Thomond Park doesn’t inspire the same kind of fear it used to either, but I think we’ll show up well there this season. It’s the hardest group to call for me, but Saturday will clarify matters a great deal. A loss for Munster and we’re almost certainly done, barring a miracle; a ground-out win and we’re in for a nervy ride as expected; a BP win and we’re in the driving seat.

        • One interesting quirk to note with Clermont is that over the last couiple of years they have been blindingly brilliant in lots of the pool games, and tended to become edgier as the tournament went on. They were consummate in beating Leinster away two years ago and easily topped their pool last season. But you’re right, they’ve lost a bit of that ‘aura’ they had about them. A fascinating pool anyway, and you’re right – nobody can afford to lose to this Sale team, though I don’t expect that to be a problem!

          • paddyo

             /  October 15, 2014

            I have memories of clermont coming to belfast and getting smashed by a vintage ferris (and wanneburg) too though in the group stages. One of fez’s best games. Ulster very nearly beat them away too that year – Hines was a touch fortunate not to get pinged for a clermont try. Are Munster better than ulster were then and are clermont as good? Hmm. As noted above they were awful away to Bordeaux-Begles in the top 14. Munster can get an edge on clermont head to head methinks, but sarries will be very, very tough. I like your optimistic prediction of a ‘treble Irish’ though. As much as each province have their issues just now, the opposition isn’t perfect either.

  18. As a Connacht supporter I hope we play our B in every match. Maybe pick a half decent team for the home matches for the supporters sake but there is zero benefit of targeting this competition…La Rochelle are monsters and could break a lot of bones. We’ve already played close to our best 15 5 weeks in a row (to great effect) but playing the same team every week just isn’t feasible. Rest them now, and have them fresh for Ospreys (step too far for us I think) and two massive matches against Llanelli and Treviso.

  19. Also, why is everyone writing off Clermont? True their ship of Heineken Cup glory has sailed but they still have quality littered throughout their team. Can;t see Munster qualifying..

    • Considering Clermont got absolutely pasted by the classic French powerhouse that is Bordeaux-Begles to the tune of around 30 points (admittedly away), and the air of invincibility at Marcel-Michelin has been pretty much broken, not to mention they still have Brock James pulling the strings and are missing Parra for the next month or so, I’d be nervous as a Clermont fan.

    • They are coming into the tournament as ‘dark horses’ at best. The manner in which they flunked out to Saracens last year (and then to Castres at home in the Top 14 barrage) saw their star fade considerably. However, they will still be a massive threat in this pool and I expect they’ll win all three games at home for sure. Can they do enough on the road to get out of this pool though?

  20. Ulster’s second row crises gets worst with AOC banned for 3 weeks for his choke tackle against Glasgow. I’d have felt quite confident with Touhy and Henderson on the team sheet but despairing with McComb and Stevenson.

  21. I’m definitely going for 4 Irish wins this weekend. 3 quarter finalists would be amazing and would send a nice “you can change the competition all you want we’re not going anywhere” message to the Top 14 and Premiership. It is a very long shot but I would be hopeful it can happen. Leinster will definitely do it given their group. Ulster will beat Leicester and Scarlets home and away and will hopefully get something against Toulon at the Kingspan (it really does have a nice ring to it). And this generation of Munster players still have their quota of Pride and Honesty to conjure up a miracle or 2!!

  22. Yossarian

     /  October 15, 2014

    Just watched highlights of wasps win over bath. Added to their performance against Northampton where they bullied them off the park I reckon we could see leinster lose in a similar way they lost to Munster.

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