European Rugby Champions Cup: Pool 1 Preview


We preview Pool 1 of the upcoming European Rugby Champions Cup kicking off on the 1st of September - 26 May 2018.

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Wasps

Having lost a narrow Aviva Premiership final to Exeter (despite topping the overall log), as well as having been kicked out of the ERCC quarterfinals by Leinster last season, Wasps will head into this one with plenty to prove. Coach Dai Young goes into his seventh season at the helm with a reasonably settled squad, jam-packed with attacking potential. Last season's failings however, were mainly due to a lack of detail shown on defence, and this is where defence coach Phil Blake will have a crucial part to play if Wasps are to progress beyond the last-eight this time around.

Player to watch: Willie le Roux
In a side fulled with thrilling attacking backs, Willie stands tall. Despite having strayed into the international wilderness of late, le Roux will be eager to prove that he is far from a spent force this European season.

Verdict: First
Wasps' offensive riches should see them top their pool, despite their much talked about defensive frailties.

Ulster Rugby

The Northern Ireland club had a frustratingly average season in 2016/17, where they finished bottom in their ERCC Pool as well as finishing fifth in the Pro12; thus outside of playoff contention. With some seriously talented players at their disposal, another mediocre season would be a catastrophic return for the 2011/12 runners-up. I can only see them improving, and i'm banking on them being proverbial "dark horses" in the upcoming campaign.

Player to Watch: Ian Henderson
After a rather stop-start display for the British & Irish Lions in June, i feel as though the 25-year-old lock will only improve with age. He certainly has the talent to make a splash, all he needs is a little consistency.

Verdict: Second
With some seriously good footballers in their ranks, it would be a rugby shame if Ulster fail to qualify for the knockouts. They should better the likes of the Quins and La Rochelle to claim second in this Pool.

Harlequins

The Quins go into this ERCC season off the back of a disappointing showing in Europe last time out. Playing in the 2016/17 European Challenge Cup, the Londoners failed to progress beyond their pool, eventually finishing in third behind the likes of Edinburgh and champions Stade Francais. Nevertheless, their sixth-place finish in the Aviva Premiership means they qualify for the "big league" this time around, where they may be pressed to make it out of a tough Pool that consists of the likes of Wasps, and Ulster.

Player to watch: Kyle Sinckler
Despite leaving the British & Irish Lions tour with a "bad boy" reputation, there's no doubting the young tighthead's potential. Sinckler could well go on to become a household name in Europe if he continues the excellent form he has shown of late.

Verdict: Third
Perhaps lacking the depth in quality of the other sides in Pool 1, Quins should do enough to finish with the bronze.

La Rochelle

Last season's surprise package in the Top 14, Stade Rochelais came out of oblivion to take the competition by storm, ending the round-robin stages in pole position. Operating as a squad of no-name brands with a mentality focused on playing for each other, it will be exciting to see how they perform in Europe this season. That said, they may struggle to adapt to the pace and punch of the competition, and it wouldn't be surprising to see their campaign end in disappointment.

Player to Watch: Victor Vito
The duel World Cup-winner was in spectacular form as his side marched their way to the Top 14 semi-finals last season. He's a great leader, and his uncompromising style of play will lift those around him during what could be a pretty tricky first European campaign.

Verdict: Fourth
Despite their Leicester-eque Top 14 season in 2016/17, they may struggle given their lack of experience in European competitions.



Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net

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