As always Liam Sinclair has a look at the prospects of the non-Irish clubs in the Rabo…
One of my favourite weekends of the year is now. Might be our last? Certainly the last in this exact format.
The pools look as close as I've ever seen them so should be a great season with plenty of tension. I'll be sticking to my usual teams prediction wise and have once again been left in a situation where I don't get to pick many winners. Ah well, I'll power on regardless.
Zebre – The first of my lads in action the weekend are the men from Parma. Here to make up the numbers in pool 3 alongside Saracens, Connacht and the weekend's rivals, Toulouse. While Toulouse seem to have lost the air of invulnerability they used to enjoy they are still a quality team, deserving of their place at the top table. Zebre are the opposite. Not quite the punchline they used to be having gotten a victory under their belts but still, easily, the whipping boys of any group they find themselves in. With Connacht alongside them Toulouse and Sarries must feel they both have a chance of qualifying. This weekend should be easy for Toulouse at home. There’s not really much doubt is there? Big victory for the Top14 team.
Edinburgh – Pool 6 is one of a few interesting groups. Edinburgh, Gloucester, Munster and Perpignan, all these teams are capable of beating each other on their day making it a tough one to call. Munster for the big game or Perpignan with their quality are the likely winners. Form is on their side at this early stage aswell being 2 and 3 points off top spot in their leagues. Edinburgh have started off very sluggishly in the Pro12. Sitting bottom with just one win under their belts they go into European competition needing another to get things moving. In their way are European royalty. Munster are getting into their flow at these early stages and come into the match at the back of a morale boosting derby victory. I’m always going on about how I think this team are better then they’re showing but I really don’t think the required improvement will come this weekend. A home loss, 8-12 points…… ish.
Treviso – A decent team at home who have improved year on year. They've found themselves in a tough group though. Any of the other 3 teams, Leicester, Ulster and Montpelier are capable of, not only getting out of the pool but challenging in the latter stages. The only role for Treviso is that of a spoiler. Not sure what it says about me but I love that role. Treviso might get themselves a nice scalp in this pool and ruin the entire tournament for their victim. Their first match is against a Montpelier team flying high domestically. Always hard to know how French teams are going to approach this competition but I like what little I've seen of these lads. A scrappy affair, Montpellier win by a margin of around 10 points.
Scarlets – Another great looking group with a few teams looking to qualify. Clermont are the obvious front runners, Harlequins aren't far behind and Racing Metro provide a delightful unknown quantity. Scarlets will huff and puff but just don't have the quality to compete with these big boys. They start with a tough trip to the Stoop where Harlequins will be looking to throw down a marker. They will be disappointed with the definitive manner of their expulsion last year and with the start they've had at home this year. Scarlets won't roll over but Quins have my vote.
Ospreys - Another one! Maybe even the closest group of them in the cup. Every team here, Leinster, Castres, Northampton and The Ospreys, is as good as the rest. I'm going to put Leinster top of my predictions (out of good old fashioned blind loyalty), Ospreys 2nd and the other two I'll leave for now. This is a big game for the Spreys. Having missed an opportunity to make a statement against Ulster Ospreys really need this. Home advantage is a definite plus and there's no doubting the quality they have all over the park. Feel they have it in them. Narrow win to get the ball rolling in a tight group.
Pool 2 – The common wisdom here is that Cardiff, Glasgow and Exeter are fighting to finish 2nd to mighty Toulon. Probably true and Glasgow have that determined look about them these days that makes them most likely to take that spot. Might even give us a surprise if they're consistent against the ''other'' teams and get one shock from their battles with Toulon. Chance is a fine thing and I think the defending champs have what it takes to qualify here.
Cardiff - A trip to Sandy Park to play everyone's second favourite team Exeter. Since their rise to the big leagues Exeter have been a tough and consistent team. In the same space of time Cardiff have shown a frustrating inconsistency. The players are there but it just hasn't happened. With the consistent team playing at home I can only see one result. Exeter will keep ticking away at the score board for a comfortable win. Call it 12 points.
Glasgow - The Warriors are undefeated this year and impressing the mobs. If they can take that form onto the European stage it's anyone's game. It will be a tough group to qualify from and first blood will have to happen soon. A trip to Toulon is a daunting start but it's exactly where they need to be showing their stuff. A quick start will be needed, backed up by an 80 minute performance. Too much too soon for Glasgow. Lots of spit and some good moments but Toulon will come out the other end on top.
That's the weekend. A quick line longer term even though so much can change. Pool toppers - Leinster, Toulon, Saracens, Clermont, Leicester, Perpignan. Best 2nd place, Toulouse, Munster or Harlequins? I'll go Munster. Quins, Glasgow and Ospreys to end up in the Amlin.
Liam Sinclair (@liam_bs) – Guesses, generalisations and clichés.