Heineken Cup Pool-by-Pool Guide
Familiar faces expected to progress but Montpellier could be surprise packet
Montpellier’s livewire Jonathan Pelissie could play a vital role in Pool 5. Photograph: Getty
Best: semi-finalists 2001-02.
ERC European Ranking: 25.
HC record: Pl 58, Wins 23, Draws 1, Losses 34.
Suffering second season syndrome after unlikely Bouclier success courtesy of defensively inspired wins over Clermont and Toulon. Having lost all five games on the road, including to promoted Oyannax and Brive, Castres have the worst record ever of any defending Top 14 champions after nine rounds. If they lose opening two games, ala nine group exits out of 10 H Cup campaigns, could quickly lose interest again.
Best: Champions in 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12.
ERC European Ranking: 1.
HC record: Pl 121, Wins 81, Draws 3, Losses 37.
Come into this campaign without a core of leading lights who helped them to three cup wins in four years as well as their visionary coach of last three seasons, and despite last season’s Amlin-Pro12 double again face a difficult task in advancing from group. Start away to bogey side having only played in patches to date.
Best: Champions in 1999-2000.
ERC European Ranking: 9.
HC record: Pl 77, Wins ,46 Draws 0, Losses 31.
Re-energised, and after successive pool exits won’t lack for motivation especially against Leinster given the final of three years ago, and the big name signings, George North, Alex Corbisiero and Kahn Fotuali’i, are a signal of intent. Deserved draw at Leicester has them in good fettle though questions remain about outhalf and ‘attitude’.
Best: Quarter-finalists 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10.
ERC European Ranking: 17.
HC record: Pl 63. Wins 30 Draws 4 Losses 29.
Caught in vicious circle of pool exits and ever tough draws as third seeds. A pack containing five Lions and an experienced, in-form, prolific outhalf (Dan Biggar) should be a match for anybody although once again not helped by WRU arranging fourth Welsh November Test six days before third game. At least it’s in Castres.
Pool odds: 4/5 Leinster, 2/1 Northampton, 6/1 Ospreys, 11/1 Castres.
Verdict: A tough group of seasoned H Cup campaigners and most likely with only one to go through as an away semi-finalist. Perhaps Leinster, but only if O’Driscoll and the old guard return and they find their old mojo.
Best: Finalists (1995-96).
ERC European Ranking: 11.
HC record: Pl 108 Wins 54 Draws 4 Losses 50.
Following embarrassing home defeat to Zebre there were rare signs of spirit on a visit to Dublin against Leinster and of a continuing revival in the win over Edinburgh last Sunday when the return of Gethin Jenkins from Toulon gave them a quartet of Lions, one of whom, Alex Cuthbert, scored another two tries.
Best: Pool stages (2012-13).
ERC European Ranking: 28.
HC record: Pl 6 Wins 2 Draws 0 Losses 4.
Well run club on and off the pitch, with bargain buys and academy products supplementing key leaders such as Dean Mumm again helping them into top half of the Aviva Premiership. Gareth Steenson is still kicking his points and they’ve added a harder, faster brand of rugby.
Best: Quarter-final play-off 1997-98.
ERC European Ranking: 19.
HC record: Pl 85, Wins 26, Draws 2, Losses 57.
The coming force in Celtic rugby and the Pro12 form team under Gregor Townsend. After finishing last season with 10 wins in 13 games, have won five out of five this season – albeit more on the back of their defence than last season’s potent attack – and look better equipped than ever to end a run of 13 pool exits in a row.
Best: Champions 2012-13.
ERC European Ranking: 2.
HC record: Pl 16 Wins 12 Draws 0 Losses 4.
Ali Williams three weeks ago, Drew Mitchell a couple of weeks ago, the return of the hamstrung Bryan Habana this week, so the cast of expensively acquired galacticos/veterans continues.
The reigning Euro champions sit atop the Top 14 on points difference without much flair though with their battery of big forward carriers, along with Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Giteau, in sparkling form.
Pool odds: 1/10 Toulon, 13/2 Glasgow, 25/1 Exeter, 25/1 Cardiff.
Verdict: Toulon will need kicking, and will get one from their benefactor, if they don’t secure a home quarter-final from this group.
Best: Pool stages 2011-12, 2012-13.
ERC European Ranking: 21.
HC record: Pl 12 Wins 4 Draws 0 Losses 8.
Connacht will be be honest and competitive again, not least out west when Sarries, who’d have Connacht banished into the Atlantic, and Toulouse call, but it’s been a trying, injury ravaged start for Pat Lam.