Ruthless Leinster remain the team as the Champions Cup gets underway on Friday at The RDS in Dublin.
The Blues kick off their defence of the title with a tricky home tie against Wasps.
Here, we share our verdicts plus predicted winners for each of the five pools in this year’s competition.
One of the toughest pools, featuring four former winners, but based on recent form, it is difficult to see past Leinster topping it convincingly. In fact, not many people would predict against the Dublin side lifting a record fifth title in Newcastle next May. Back-to-back matches against Wasps and Bath will prove interesting, especially with former Leinster full-back Girvan Dempsey now spearheading Bath’s attack as backs coach. Behind Leinster, both English sides will be battling for second place, with Toulouse likely to struggle in away fixtures despite a bright opening start to their Top 14 campaign.
Predicted finish: 1. Leinster, 2. Wasps, 3. Bath, 4. Toulouse
Exeter – with six wins from six in the Premiership – have the potential to go far in this year’s competition. After suffering at the hands of Leinster last season, they look to have a more favourable group, with Castres, Gloucester and Munster in the mix. Munster may be the pick of the teams to assert some level of resistance, but reigning Top14 champions Castres have past prioritised on domestic matters ahead of the Champions Cup in recent years, winning just two out their 33 away matches since 2002.
Predicted finish: 1. Exeter, 2. Munster, 3. Castres, 4. Gloucester
Saracens, like Exeter, are the only unbeaten teams in the Champions Cup at the end of the first month of the new season. And after being knocked out in the quarter-finals last year, will be determined to get back in the hunt for a third title in four years. It is a given Saracens should top this pool and are probably best placed to challenge Leinster at the business end of the competition. Glasgow have the mettle to seal second spot, with 21-year-old Adam Hastings in fine form early in the season.
Predicted finish: 1. Saracens, 2. Glasgow, 3. Cardiff Blues, 4. Lyon
Last season’s finalists Racing are bolstered by the additions of Simon Zebo and Finn Russell – two players who could add serious firepower against Scarlets, Leicester and Ulster in the group stages and beyond. If Leone Nakarawa and Teddy Thomas can stay fit and firing, then expect the Parisians to storm into the knock-out stages again. Although Scarlets have lost star men John Barclay, James Davies and Tadhg Beirne, it is hard to see either Leicester or Ulster progressing ahead of them to the knock-out stages. Both may be former winners but under new management need to use this campaign to find their rhythm.
Predicted finish: 1. Racing 92, 2. Scarlets, 3. Ulster, 4. Leicester
Perhaps one of the toughest pools to predict, but so many factors contributing to each side’s inconsistencies. Three-time champions Toulon may look a frontrunner to top the pool despite having a poor start to their domestic season with just two wins. Montpellier too will fancy their chances of booking their place in the quarter-finals. They were pitted in a tough group with Leinster and Exeter last season, and 2018-19 may be the time they can finally flourish under Vern Cotter. Newcastle and Edinburgh should cause an upset or two on the road, but are unlikely to feature at the penultimate stages of the competition.
Predicted finish: 1. Toulon, 2. Montpellier, 3. Edinburgh, 4. Newcastle
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