As our preview of next season’s European Rugby Champions Cup continues, Jonathan Abbott previews pool 2, which includes three-time European Champions Leinster. The Irish province will do battle with Castres, and London’s duo of Harlequins and play-off winners Wasps.
Key Player: Sean O’Brien
Player to Watch: Zane Kirchner ( Debut year last year, but scintillating in the Pro12 final against Ulster)
Make no bones about this, Leinster should win this pool. However, in the last two years this is where they have lost their way in the tournament. Two naïve losses in the Aviva to Northampton and Clermont have messed up any real chance of returning to the summit of European rugby.
The loss of Brian O’Driscoll will be huge, both physically and mentally.Who will replace him, Fergus McFadden? Zane Kirchner? Luke Fitzgerald?
This writer tips Jimmy Gopperth at 10 this season with a centre pairing of Ian Madigan and Gordon D’arcy (same back line after BOD was taken off in the Pro12 Final). Leinster should have enough to beat these sides.
Key Player: Rory Kockott
Player to Watch: Sitiveni Sivivatu (Surplus to requirements at Clermont, does he still have it in him to cross the white wash at 32?)
This writer puts Castres’ Top 14 Championship two years ago down to a mixture of passionate forwards and an outstanding Rory Kockott.
Kockott is one of the best scrum-halfs in the game and deserves to be selected for France now that he can declare with them for the World Cup. As Castres go, one cannot see them doing anything special here, especially considering Leinster did the double over them last year.
The French outfit have a poor record in Europe and expect that to continue.
Key Player: Mike Brown
Player to Watch: Danny Care (Obvious, but blink and you’ll miss him)
Harlequins could be one of the three teams to qualify through the best runner-up process. They are always up for an occasional upset, while at the same time prone to an occasional blunder.
Expect them to exert their supremacy over their London rivals and complete the double over Wasps. They also have a good chance against Castres.
A number of English players will want to push for places in the World Cup squad too, so the hunger is there. Expect them to finish second and compete in every game.
London Wasps (10/1)
Key Player: James Haskell
Player to Watch: Elliot Daly (Nice player with ball in hand and has a monster boot)
Former Kings of Europe, a titanic performance in Stade Jean-Bouin saw them beat Stade Francais to earn the last position in the inaugural year of this championship.
On their day, London Wasps are a quality side with speedsters, Christian Wade and Tom Varndell. However, in a competition of this magnitude, even the most optimistic of fans could not see them causing any great trouble.
2. Harlequins (QF Spot)
3. London Wasps
Jonathan Abbott, Pundit Arena.