European Preview 2016/2017
This weekend sees the return of the European Champions Cup and also the Challenge Cup. For the first time all 4 Irish provinces will play in the Champions Cup a first in the competition’s history.
Leinster will take Castres , Montpeillier and Northampton Saints in Pool 4 of this year’s Champions Cup. Leinster will be boosted by the return to form of a host of Irish International’s including Robbie Henshaw , Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney. In the forwards they have added to their locking options with Ian Nagle signing for the rest of the season. He will give them another Irish option.
Looking at what they have done so far this season with new adventure in attack and a real resolve in defence that saw them squeeze the life out of a number of sides and that resolute defence will be needed in Europe.
I feel Leinster will catch fire this season and have probably the best Irish centre partnership since O Driscoll and D’arcy with the early signs for Henshaw and Ringrose being very positive. Although they face some tough tests in Pool 4 Leinster are beginning to find that spark that saw them win 3 Heineken Cups and they could go a long way this year and a Semi Final isn’t out of the question for Leinster.
For Ulster , this year will be huge for them after investing heavily in there playing squad with the capture of both Marcel Coetzee and Charles Piutau they have very little wriggle room and will be expected to challenge Clermont Auvergne , Exeter and Bordeaux Begles for top spot in Pool 5. Les Kiss has Ulster playing an open expansive brand of rugby and they have the artillery to fire and cause trouble in the Champions Cup. They along with Leinster I expect to be playing European Rugby next April and a Semi Final spot is not a farfetched goal for Les Kiss and his squad.
Connacht will be a marked team this year in the Champions Cup , they face Toulouse , Wasps and Zebre. No disrespect to Zebre but this Pool could see two teams coming from Pool 2 , I expect Wasps , Connacht and Toulouse to take the full quota of points from Zebre and this will make it even trickier for other sides to come out of very tough Pools. Pat Lam will want his team to express themselves in the same way that saw them light up the Pro 12 last season and win a first ever trophy in the Provinces history.
They made history last season and they are well placed again this year after two positive results in the past few weeks they will lick their lips at the prospect of taking Toulouse on this weekend. They face stiff competition from both France and England for top spot but they have the players and the game plan to cause a few shocks and could sneak into the last 8 and take their chances then.
For Munster, it’s a case of de ja vu , with Leicester Tigers coming to Limerick again along with Racing 92 and Glasgow Warriors. All quality teams in their own right. Rassie Erasmus will have his work cut out to out think and out muscle these sides paired with Munster this year.
Munster will have a tough start going to Paris to face last season’s Top 14 Champions Racing 92 who have Dan Carter in there armoury along with some other real quality. Leicester for their part will want to inflict more pain on Munster after defeating them home and away last season.
Munster have the opportunity this season to right the wrongs of the last few years in Europe and put themselves in a position to fight for top spot in Pool 1. Erasmus has seen what the Pro 12 is all about in the opening weeks of the season and will get first-hand experience of what Europe’s top club competition is all about.
Can Munster recapture the spirit of 06 and 08 , only time will tell and a good start to the Pool is vital this weekend.
Cian Mc Gibney