European Rugby Champions Cup: Pool 2 Preview



We preview Pool 2 of the upcoming European Rugby Champions Cup kicking off on the 1st of September - 26 May 2018.

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Saracens

This is one seriously good rugby side. Saracens defended their title magnificently last season, edging out Clermont Auvergne in the final, and it would be silly to write them off claiming a three-peat in 2017/18. Should this current Sarries bunch manage a third title, they will surely be regarded as the greatest ever European club side - surpassing even the Toulon "Galacticos" of several seasons ago. Mark McCall's men have done wonders of late, and I'm expecting that streak to continue this year.

Player to watch: Jamie George
Warren Gatland's British & Irish Lions' first-choice hooker, George performed admirably during the June Test series. Another big season for Saracens and it would seem that Eddie Jones would have no choice but to dethrone Dylan Hartley as England's no 1 no 2 in favour of the 26-year-old dynamo.

Verdict: First
Clermont will be their biggest contenders for Pool 2, but it would seem that there is no stopping this Sarries juggernaut. They'll finish the only way they know how - in first.

ASM Clermont Auvergne

While winning the Top 14 last season would have slightly alleviated the expectation on the perennial bridesmaids of European rugby, Clermont know that a European Rugby Champions Cup title win would banish their demons for good. Losing three finals in 2013, '15 and '17 has left a blot on an otherwise faultless rugby side, and it would be a privilege to finally see arguably the best-attacking team on the planet get over the line. They will be right up there with the red-hot favorites again this season, and should once again set the tournament alight with their displays of offensive brilliance.

Player to Watch: Damian Penaud
20-year-old centre Penaud was a star for "Les Jaunards" last season and made his international debut for France against the Springboks in June. The young man has a very bright future ahead of him and may lead French rugby into a brave new world in the years to come. Remember the name.

Verdict: Second
They should easily better the likes of Ospreys and Northampton but may fall short of victories over Saracens once again. They'll finish in second.

Ospreys

The Ospreys are back in the  European Rugby Champions Cup after claiming fourth place in last season's Pro12 and will be keen on upsetting the status quo when they take on the "giants" in the shapes of Clermont and Saracens. Despite topping their Pool in the Challenge Cup last term, the Welshmen fell to eventual champions Stade Francais in a disappointing quarter-final clash. They may not be the flashiest side in the competition, but Alun Wyn Jones' men will work hard and fight on... they may even surprise a few people along the way.

Player to Watch: Justin Tipuric
Alongside Ryan Crotty, Tipuric must be one of the most underrated players in world rugby. The tenacious flanker is a tackling machine, who always gives everything he's got for club and country. A fantastic rugby player.

Verdict: Third
Better than the Saints, but not as good as last year's finalists. With a large contingent of players past their prime, I see Ospreys finishing in third.

Northampton Saints
It seems an eternity ago that the Saints lost to Leinster in the then Heineken Cup final of 2011. They've suffered some haphazard results since that successful period; winning the Aviva Premiership in 2013/14, and then seemingly falling off the pace somewhat. Nevertheless, they qualified for this season's  European Rugby Champions Cup courtesy of their playoff win over Stade Francais and will look to cause some upsets this European season, despite a clear degree of class.

Player to Watch: Cobus Reinach
Having signed for the Saints before South Africa's new overseas players policy (which states that only players with 30 or more Test caps will be eligible to represent the Springboks) came into effect, Reinach will want to prove a point to his country of birth with some big European performances, against the very best European clubs.

Verdict: Fourth
Their ties against the Ospreys will be crucial regarding whereabouts they finish in the group, as they will certainly struggle against the likes of last year's finalists. They may battle to gel, and I'm banking on them picking up the wooden spoon.



Written by Shaun Goosen for @Hollywoodbets.net

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