Munster, Edinburgh, Saracens and Racing Metro
This looks an easier pool than last year for Munster. Last year they were seen to be in the toughest pool, but were comfortably qualified with a game to play.
I just don’t think they were in any shape going into the match against Ulster in the Quarter Finals, plus a very poor French ref.
So on to this year, Edinburgh sprung a big surprise beating Toulouse last year and gave Scottish rugby a great boost.
Munster will be wary of them but I feel Edinburgh will not be good enough to cause another upset. Saracens just don’t seem to have a good record in the Heineken Cup and are now a South African franchise, so its hard to know how that will work out.
French teams apart from the top 3 or 4, concentrate on their own league and don’t seem to have the squad to compete in both competitions Racing Metro are based in Paris and haven’t set the world on fire. Munster to qualify.
Toulouse, Leicester, Ospreys and Bennetton Treviso
The first three sides in this pool are formidable. Toulouse will want to make up for last year though there is a thought that their squad is ageing. Leicester, not the force of old, but must come back into the reckoning soon, very tough at home.
Ospreys will want to break their duck, and be the first Welsh team to lift the trophy. Their win in the Rabo final over Leinster should give them hope.
Bennetton are capable of taking points off teams at home and are improving as the years go by.
So I think just one team will qualify out of this group probably Toulouse, with Ospreys putting in a strong challenge.
Biarritz, Harlequins, Connacht and Zebre
At first look you would strongly fancy Biarritz in this pool, big squad, great players, but capable of loosing games you think they would win easily.
Harlequins were beaten by Connacht to put them out of the tournament last year, they wont relish a return trip to Galway.
Zebre (Zebra in French) are in instead of Aironi and will take a year or so to settle in. Eric Elwood has done a great job with Connacht, season tickets are selling like hot buns .
The ‘West’s Awake,’ with a vengeance. So can Connacht qualify? Why not? Biarritz to head the pool Connacht in with a chance.
Northampton, Ulster, Glasgow, and Castres
This wont be pretty, the best goal kickers will win this pool.
Northampton have the best side on paper, but also have some brittle temperaments in their squad. Ulster will depend on their South Africans to pull them through. Castre are formidable at home and poor on the road.
A hard pool to call but I would go with Northampton one team to come out of a bruising pool.
Leinster, Clermont, Scarletts and Exeter
Leinster will fancy themselves in this group but that’s where they could have a problem.
They were lucky last year with refs decision going their way and won the Cup without beating any of the traditionally top sides.
After the final, Brian O’Driscoll talked about Leinster creating the highest standards and becoming a world force.
It has to be said he might have to think again after the summer tests in New Zealand, a back line made up of mainly Leinster players were at best unimpressive against the world champions.
What was clear to me is that the fitness of Nacewa is vital to Leinster. I feel they need him to stay fit as he makes some ordinary players look good through his brilliance.
Clermont must make the break through soon, they lack self belief, but it might come next year. Scarletts must have been the most devastated team last year.
They started the season well, confident and then collapsed, can they recover, only time will tell. New comers to the Heineken Cup, Exeter led by Limericks, Tom Hayes (John Hayes brother)
could be dark horses, a full on small outfit who have done well since breaking into the English Premiership they wont lack heart and could cause surprises. So I would fancy Clermont and Leinster to come out of the pool
Toulon, Cardiff, Sale and Montpellier
Toulon to come out of this pool.
I would look on Sale to be one of the weakest teams in the competition.
Montpellier might have to concentrate on the French league. Cardiff will be an unknown quantity, next year a lot of Welsh players are departing to France as the Divisions in Wales are all under financial pressure. Montpellier could also qualify.
Hard to call, you would have to think that the French will feature, having had a dismal year last year. I don’t fancy Leinster, there is a lot of talk about Munster’s ageing panel, but surely the same is true of Leinster.
I feel some of their emerging talent is over rated, an example of this is Conway.
We were told that he was going to be awesome but I haven’t seen anything from him that would come under this heading. Luke Fitzgerald doesn’t look as if he is going to make it, despite glowing predictions and there are others who don’t ring my bell.
Two French teams in the final. Toulouse and Toulon? Don’t put any money on these predictions. Who would have thought Ulster would be in the final at the start of last year’s competition? The only thing predictable about the Heineken cup is that it is unpredictable!