Iain Morrison’s pool by pool guide to European Champions Cup

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell, left, has impressed for Racing. Picture: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell, left, has impressed for Racing. Picture: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pool 1: Bath, Leinster, Toulouse, Wasps

Former Edinburgh player Todd Blackadder admitted that his Bath team was playing for a point against Sarries in the league recently and that sort of defeatism will not play well with fans. Leinster are the team to beat, as usual, with the prize of becoming the most successful side in Europe should they capture their fifth European Cup title. That would be one more than the mighty Stade Toulousain who are struggling to recapture their best form, managing three wins in six outings in the Top 14. Wasps are something of an enigma. They are good but, you feel, not quite Champions Cup good.

Pool 2: Castres, Exeter, Gloucester, Munster

How can a team from a town of just 45,000 souls win the Top 14 as Castres just did? Having the backing of the hugely wealthy Fabre family helps. Gloucester look a little out of their depth in this company but could take points at Kingsholm while the Munster and Exeter clashes will be hotly anticipated with a home win for both on the cards. Exeter have a domestic title and are looking to match that success in their European campaign while the men in red will forever have the class of 2006 and 2008 beckoning them to glory.

Pool 3: Cardiff, Glasgow, Lyon, Saracens

When Cardiff last pitched up in the same pool as Glasgow, they beat the Warriors home and away. Ouch. Glasgow will need to improve if they are to crawl out of swamp No.3 but they did at least display, for 40 minutes against Munster, the sort of brutal intensity that it will take to get anything from their opening match against Saracens next Sunday. Lyon are the wildcard of the bunch, sitting comfortably inside the Top 14 play-off places and much will depend on what emotional resources they invest in this competition. Saracens are still head and shoulders above the vast majority of teams in Europe, in an exclusive group of two alongside Leinster. If Clermont might argue, the Top 14 leaders will do so from the relative obscurity of the Challenge Cup.

Pool 4: Leicester, Racing, Scarlets, Ulster

This looks like Racing’s pool to lose since the French outfit, with Finn Russell doing good things at stand-off, are the only side with form on their side. Leicester Tigers sacked their head coach after one league match and Geordan Murphy, the popular Irishman who took the reins, hasn’t inspired a heap of confidence after going down to Worcester at Welford Road. Scarlets are going well in the Pro14 but they will miss the departed Tadhg Beirne and John Barclay, currently recuperating from that nasty ankle operation in Edinburgh. Ulster scraped past Edinburgh in Belfast, coming from behind, but were humbled by Munster in Thomond Park and lost to Connacht on Friday, their first defeat to the Galway men in Belfast since 1960.

Pool 5: Edinburgh, Montpellier, Newcastle, Toulon

Be careful of what you wish for! Edinburgh last slurped from the Heineken Cup five years ago, just before the numbers were cut from 24 to just 20 teams, but they may wonder why they bothered scrapping so hard for another invitation after landing in a brutal-looking pool including not one but two French behemoths. Vern Cotter’s Montpellier were beaten finalists in the Top 14 last season and Toulon are three time winners of this tournament even if you wouldn’t have guessed as much from their current league form: two wins from six. Comic book guy Mourad Boudjellal is said to be looking for five new signings, by tomorrow if not before. Newcastle did well to make the English playoffs last season but arguably over-achieved while doing so, a little like Edinburgh.