Toulon have resources to test the best
Whatever comes out of the talks, I don’t see any way the Heineken Cup will go to the wall. The English clubs might get some concessions somewhere along the way regarding the qualification criteria but there’s just no way they’ll be able to strike out on their own and set up a breakaway league.
The tournament needs them and the game is too professional now to allow something like that.
As for the tournament itself, a lot of the usual big-hitters like Leinster, Toulouse and Clermont are at the top of the betting but I really fancy Toulon.
They’ve had a couple of seasons to get used to the competition and it looks like they’re going to really target it this year. With the resources they have and the amount of English and Welsh imports they’ve brought over recently, they’re going to be very tough to beat.
The bookies have them at around 7/1 or 8/1 but when you think that two of the teams ahead of them – Leinster and Clermont – are in the same pool, Toulon have definitely got the better of the draw. They have Sale, Montpellier and Cardiff in their pool so you would expect them to come out on top there and take a home quarter-final into the bargain. I reckon there’s a bit of value in them anyway.
The fixtures have been kind enough to the Irish teams for the opening weekend and I don’t think it would be going too far overboard to say we can expect four wins out of four. Ulster have beaten better teams than Castres in Ravenhill even at times when they weren’t playing as well as they are now. Leinster shouldn’t have too many problems with Exeter at home, nor should Connacht with Zebre away.
Munster’s task is obviously the toughest, away to Racing Metro, but even so they should be up to it. Racing lost at home last weekend to Montpellier and took a bit of a beating the previous week from Grenoble, who are only after being promoted to the Top 14. That’s not the sort of form you need to be taking with you into the Heineken Cup.
Of course, if the Irish provinces start four from four, it might only give our friends across the water more to get riled up about. Sure what harm?