Hollywoodbets Sports Blog: Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Pools 1 and 2

Heineken Champions Cup Preview: Pools 1 and 2

Levani Botia of La Rochelle and Tom Curry of Sale Sharks

Shaun Goosen has a look at Pools 1 and 2 in this season's Heineken Champions Cup. 

Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sports

Pool 1

The Treviso-based club has been involved in 21 Champions Cup campaigns yet are still inBraa search of a first-ever appearance in the knockouts. Astoundingly, Marius Goosen’s side has recorded just five wins since 2006 and, with just two wins from their opening six Pro14 matches this season, all signs indicate it will be another tough campaign this time around.

With the likes of Leinster, Lyon and Northampton all in the same pool, Benetton may struggle on the road. There’s always a chance they could cause an upset outside of Italy, but considering their poor away record in the Pro14, this remains unlikely.

Star attraction: Braam Steyn
The Cradock-born 27-year-old, schooled at Paarl Gymnasium, was a standout for Italy at the Rugby World Cup. Steyn is a dynamic blindside capable of dominating collisions, and Benetton will be in desperate need of his services as they face up to physical teams like Lyon.

Leo Cullen’s men will be frothing for a chance to reclaim the crown they won so comprehensively in 2018. They may have come unstuck against Saracens in last season’s title-decider, but there’s no doubting the talent and class this current Leinster setup possesses.

Armed with Irish internationals who will want to make up for another disappointing World Cup, Leinster will be one of the favourites to win their pool and go on to claim another Champions Cup trophy this season.

Garry Ringrose will need to be at his best if Leinster are to go one better this season and lift the Heineken Champions Cup. Image Copyright - Pinnacle Photo Agency Ltd. 

Star attraction: Garry Ringrose
With several seasons of elite-level rugby now under his belt, expect the 24-year-old Ringrose to reach new heights in the years ahead. Leinster’s No 13 has pace, guile and an astute eye for a gap. He really will be one to keep an eye on as the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour approaches.

Lyon endured a disastrous debut season last time out, losing all six of their matches. With the experience they’ve now accumulated, they should know more of what to expect as they attempt to make a name for themselves in Europe.

Les Loups have enjoyed a dream start to the Top 14 so far, winning eight of their first nine. If they can take that momentum into their European clashes, they will be a force to be reckoned with – particularly with some of the talent at their disposal.

Star attraction: Josua Tuisova
Tuisova is your typical Fijian force of nature. The 110kg flyer enjoyed a storming Lyon debut against La Rochelle in November after starring for his country in Japan. The Olympic Gold Medallist would genuinely walk into most teams and if Lyon can find a way to give him enough time and space on the ball, he will prove to be a big asset.

Northampton Saints
While Dylan Hartley was certainly not everyone’s favourite player, there’s little doubt that his recent retirement has left a giant whole at Northampton. The former skipper was talismanic during his 13-year stay and that kind of experience isn’t easily replaced.

Still, Chris Boyd’s men have to march on. Their winning three of their first four Premiership games would have gone a long way to consolidating some kind of stability, though they will be up against it in a very tough pool. If they can manage to steal a win away at either Leinster or Lyon, they may well secure a knockout berth.

Owen Franks stands with his hands on his hips
Owen Franks will be key to the Saints' scrum this season. Photo Copyright - Steve Haag Sports.

Star attraction: Owen Franks
All Black centurion Owen joins his brother Ben at the Saints after winning an historic third-successive Super Rugby title with the Crusaders in 2019. After being shockingly dropped by Steve Hansen for the World Cup – a decision which old ‘Shag’ may have changed in hindsight – Franks will be hungry to end his esteemed career with some European silverware.

Pool 2

Exeter Chiefs
Consistently one of England’s best sides over the past several seasons, the Chiefs are yet to mount a serious challenge in Europe. They failed to qualify for the knockouts in the last edition of the Champions Cup, managing just two wins in six games. 2019-20 gives them another shot at making waves.

Rob Baxter’s men have done extremely well to sign Stuart Hogg in the off-season, with the Scottish fullback’s experience at the highest level sure to boost last year’s Premiership runners-up. They will back themselves to win their pool and cement a home quarterfinal.

Star attraction: Stuart Hogg
Look no further than Hogg. The former Glasgow Warrior has the potential to split a game open from the back and, armed with a siege gun of a right-boot, can offer his new club a plethora of options in their quest for European glory.

Glasgow Warriors
For all of their consistency since he took over at the helm, Dave Rennie’s men are yet to win any silverware. The Warriors were pipped by Leinster in last season’s Pro14 final in Glasgow and brushed aside by Saracens in their Champions Cup quarterfinal.

The loss of Stuart Hogg will hit hard. If one also accounts for Finn Russell, who departed in 2018, Rennie has lost two world-class players in a short space of time, both of whom were integral to the way he wanted to play. It will be up to senior players like Tommy Seymour and Ryan Wilson to command the ship, though their side may still struggle.

Jonny Gray of Scotland runs will ball in hand.
Jonny Gray will be key to Glasgow's hopes of getting out of a tough Champions Cup pool. Photo Copyright Fotosport/Hiro Irie.

Star attraction: Jonny Gray
Gray continues to be one of the most underrated second rowers of his generation. The man is a tackling machine, completing 55 at the World Cup; far and away the most by a Scottish player. If Glasgow are to have any say this season, Gray will need to be his influential self.

La Rochelle
The French outfit were outdone by compatriots Clermont in last season’s Challenge Cup final but are back in the big time after ending the 2018-19 Top 14 in fifth. In such a tightly contested pool, they will qualify for the knockouts with a few big performances in the coming months.

La Rochelle may not have as many ‘big-name players’ as some of the other Top 14 outfits, but they are no less dangerous. With Victor Vito set to lead from the front once more, they could well spark one or two surprises.

Star attraction: Tawera Kerr-Barlow
A former Steve Hansen favourite during his time with the All Blacks, the 2015 World Cup winner is entering his third season with La Rochelle. His experience and ability to spark something from nothing is crucial to his side’s plans.

Sale Sharks

You’d be forgiven for thinking this Sharks side is of the Republic too, with no less than nine Saffas in their squad. Faf de Klerk, all three du Preez brothers, Akker van der Merwe, Jono Ross, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Coenie Oosthuizen and now Lood de Jager all ply their trade for the Manchester-based club, who are intent on making the most of their obvious potential.

Sale are arguably one of the most exciting English clubs to watch and have steadily improved over the last few years. Steve Diamond has assembled a squad capable of knocking over virtually anyone on their day and you’d be hard-pressed to bet against them qualifying for the quarterfinals at the very least.

Tom Curry of England during the 2018 Castle LAger Incoming Series
Tom Curry will look to bring his World Cup form into the Champions Cup. Image Copyright - Steve Haag Sport.

Star attraction: Tom Curry
Not to be confused with twin brother Ben, Tom was hugely influential in England’s World Cup campaign. The opensider has been touted to achieve big things and this season gives him the chance to really push on after his heroics in Japan. He will be under pressure for his position though, with the du Preez twins, captain Ross and even his own brother all set to challenge for a place in the starting back row.

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