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European Rugby Champions Cup: Round 1 Preview
We take a look at the headline games for the opening round of the 2016/17 European Rugby Champions Cup.
Our rugby scribe has spent the last month hard at work researching – he calls it research, we like to call it “sitting on the couch and knocking back a few cold beers” – happenings on the European rugby scene. And he reckons he’s got his eye in. Which is rather handy, seeing as though one of the biggest rugby tournaments in the Northern Hemisphere gets underway this Thursday.
Having watched the opening few rounds of both the French Top 14 and Aviva Premiership, I can safely establish this dear readers; we’re in for a cracking European Rugby Champions Cup.
Most of England’s representatives have been in fine fettle during the opening salvos of the Aviva Premiership, with Saracens and Wasps only losing a game apiece. The French big guns are yet to really fire domestically but that’s just the status quo in France – the ‘big boys’ tend to only really start to hit their straps three months into the European rugby season. But don’t let the poor domestic form of Toulon and last year’s finalists Racing Metro fool you, as these two clubs are more than capable of lifting the cup.
That’s enough with the introduction, though, let’s get stuck into the meat of this piece.
Glasgow Warriors v Leicester Tigers | Friday 14 October | Scotstoun Stadium | 20:40
To Win (80 Mins)
Glasgow 11/20 | Draw 18/1 | Leicester 15/10
The first game we’ll take a look at offers a hell of a lot of value for punters. I really don’t want to knock Scottish rugby here – I have a real soft spot for the 'Thistles' – but their domestic playing pool is a lot thinner and of a much lesser caliber than their neighbors in England.
A quick look at the playing personnel both teams possess gives you an indication of just how big this gulf is. While Leicester will have the likes of internationals Marcos Ayerza, JP Pietersen, and Australian Matt Toomua – who will make his Leicester debut this Friday – turning out for them, Glasgow only have a handful of overseas internationals on their books. So it will be up to Glasgow’s homegrown talent to lead them to victory here.
Speaking of homegrown talent, Scottish 10, Finn Russell, is likely to play an integral role in this one. The blonde pivot has been in decent touch during the start of the Pro 12, having knocked over five penalties in his four starts this season. He has played a big role in Glasgow’s fantastic start to the Pro 12, which has seen the Scottish club win four out of their opening six Pro 12 fixtures.
One Scottish international who is unlikely to turn out for Glasgow this week is lock, Tim Swinson. The big man is still recovering from a rib injury and is said to be a massive doubt. Another forward who is likely to miss out is Italian flanker Simone Favaro, who is struggling to shrug off a shoulder injury.
Leicester have an identical record in this season’s Aviva Premiership to Glasgow's Pro 12 record. They come into this one off the back of a high-scoring away victory over Gloucester which should give them a boatload of confidence heading into this one.
Verdict: Leicester 15/10
Get on the Tigers as soon as possible, as this price is likely to shorten drastically.
RC Toulon v Saracens | Saturday 15 October | Stade Mayol | 20:45
To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 13/20 | Draw 18/1 | Saracens 27/20
The premiere game of the weekend sees defending champions Saracens make the short trip to France to take on an out of sorts Toulon side. The hosts for this one have endured a rather subdued start to their domestic season, only winning four of their opening eight fixtures. The French giants look extremely out of sorts and are struggling for any semblance cohesion.
Saracens, on the other hand, have enjoyed a stellar start to their domestic campaign winning five of their opening six games. The ‘Wolf Pack’ have already racked up 175 points in the Premiership at an average of 29.1 points per game. While those aren't the most awe-inspiring attacking stats to appear in a rugby piece, when you combine it with their defensive stats – they’ve only conceded 59 points – it makes for more impressive reading.
Those stats could prove to be a great indicator to how this one plays out. Saries will look to exit with the boot while in their own half and then look to tackle Toulon into submission. This tactic could work a treat as Toulon have been shocking with ball in hand this term. They have penchant for knocking the ball on and this will play right into the hands of Saracens, who know exactly how to make the most of a quick turnover ball.
Verdict: Saracens 27/20
This is the best value you’ll find on a rugby game this weekend. Like Leicester, get on a 'Saries win before it shortens.
Exeter Chiefs v ASM Clermont Auvergne | Sunday 17 October | Sandy Park | 18:30
To Win (80 Mins)
Exeter 12/10 | Draw 17/1 | Clermont 7/10
Our final port of call for the week is Sandy Park in Exeter, where the Chiefs will look to get one over a Clermont side that is on a hot-streak. The visitors come to Exeter as French Top 14 leaders, having gotten their domestic campaign off to an absolute flyer. The Vulcans have only lost one of their Top 14 games this season, drawing two and winning the other five. They are yet to take on a team as physical as the Chiefs, however.
The hosts have endured a bit of a poor start to their domestic campaign, only winning two of their opening six fixtures. There are mitigating factors to their poor start, though. Firstly, they have a new center pairing which is yet to really settle. Secondly, the Chiefs were given a very hectic fixtures draw which has seen them take on both pacesetters Wasps and Saracens.
Despite their sub-par start to their domestic campaign, coach Dai Young will fancy his side's chances against Clermont. He knows his forward pack will have the upper hand this Sunday and as such, I reckon the Exeter mentor will ask his side to play the territory game and look to maul and scrum their opponents off the Park.
Verdict: Exeter 12/10
Clermont may be in sensational form but my money is on the Chiefs. They have the pack to dominate their opponents, and I reckon their backs will come good this Sunday. Get on the Chiefs at 12/10.
Racing Metro to beat Munster at 1/8
Connacht to beat Toulouse 17/10
Sale to beat Llanelli at 18/10
Leinster to beat Castres at 1/8
Montpellier to beat Northampton at 11/10
Harlequins -7.5 against Stade Francais at 9/10