Champions Cup preview: Pool 1

Date published: October 11 2016

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Our first preview ahead of this season's Champions Cup takes a look at Pool 1, featuring Glasgow Warriors, Leicester Tigers, Munster and Racing 92.

This group is set to be closely contested given the presence of two double-champions in Munster and Leicester, along with last season's runners-up Racing 92 and the ever-dangerous Glasgow.

Let's take a closer look at the teams.

Glasgow Warriors

After a PRO12 title triumph in 2015 this will be Gregor Townsend's last term in charge of Scotland's best professional outfit, with Townsend set to take over as Scotland boss Vern Cotter come the end of the season.

Glasgow have opened the new PRO12 season with four wins out of six to sit just a point off top spot, their 41-5 demolition of defending champions Connacht one of the biggest shocks of the European season to date.

Packed full of Scottish internationals, the signing of former All Blacks hooker Corey Flynn already looks to be a smart bit of business given his early-season form for the side.

Backline threats in Mark Bennett, Tommy Seymour and Stuart Hogg are complimented well up front by the work of Jonny Gray, Josh Strauss and promising talent Zander Ferguson.

The tools are there for Glasgow to make the last eight but achieving that would be some feat, having never reached that stage before and after coming third last season in Pool 3 behind Racing 92 and Northampton. A big win on the road will be required.

One to watch: Henry Prygos

Glasgow's co-captain and previously a Scotland captain as well, Prygos has been made to bide his time behind Greig Laidlaw at international level but regularly impresses with his game management. Also a goal-kicking option.


Leicester Tigers

Last season's run in the Champions Cup saw the Tigers break a long-awaited semi-final drought, returning to the final four of Europe's premier competition seven years since their last appearance, when they went on to lose in the final to Leinster.

The two-time champions have been waiting a long time now to be crowned as Europe's best side once again, 2002 being the last time to be exact, and in their semi-final loss to Racing 92 earlier this year the problems came up front, with the Parisian's pack proving too powerful.

The Tigers however are into their second season under head coach Aaron Mauger and his new attacking philosophy, something the players appear to be embracing, and with JP Pietersen and Matt Toomua now at the club combining with the threats of Telusa Veainu and Peter Betham, the potential is there for fireworks.

The loss of a potential England flanker Mike Williams due to another arm injury is a blow, and having rapidly shrunk their squad over the course of the off-season, a run of injuries could prove to be problematic.

The talent is certainly there however for Leicester to progress back into the knockout stages for the fourth time in five seasons.

One to watch: Brendon O'Connor

Signed from the Blues before the start of the last season, O'Connor made a huge impact for Leicester in the Premiership and Europe before a hamstring injury forced him to miss two months of the season. Dynamic over the ball at the breakdown and also in the loose.


Munster

Under new management this season following the appointment of South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus as director of rugby, Munster's long association with the European Cup has hit a rough patch after missing out on the knockout stages last season for the second straight campaign.

Defeat at home to Leicester proved to be the fatal blow by the time the pool stages all wrapped up and Erasmus will be eager to avoid a similar pitfall this time around, with Thomond Park arguably no longer the same imposing venue to visit for travelling sides compared to years past.

Heading into the opening weekend of the Champions Cup after a PRO12 derby defeat to Leinster, with Erasmus calling for a step-up in defence this week ahead of one of the tricker contests of the weekend – travelling to Paris to take on Racing 92.

A back row featuring the combination of Peter O'Mahony and CJ Stander has the potential to help Munster win tight matches, not forgetting Tommy O'Donnell either, but the loss of Francis Saili in midfield poses a real issue, taking away a real dose of creativity.

If Ian Keatley's boot falters, tries will be required, and given Saili has been one of Munster's best architects since joining from the Blues, his absence is a setback.

One to watch: Tyler Bleyendaal

It's been a rough road for the former New Zealand U20 captain, hampered by injuries since signing for the province, but the signs suggest that Bleyendaal is about to turn the corner. Now fully fit, Bleyendaal offers a different kind of attacking threat at fly-half.


Racing 92

European runners-up but domestic champions at long last, owner Jacky Lorenzetti must have been cock-a-hoop to at last see a return on his investment when Racing defeat Toulon in Barcelona, thanks largely to the brilliance of Joe Rokocoko and their resilience having had Maxime Machenaud red carded early on.

Losing Dan Carter and the battle up front to Saracens cost them a chance of a famous double, however Racing will return to this season's Champions Cup expecting to go deep in the competition once again.

That's despite a patchy start to the season, winning four games out of eight in the Top 14 and only two of their last five.

The drugs testing news last week around Carter, Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff has been an unwelcome distraction too but with Johan Goosen having return from international duty with the Springboks, having been named Top 14 player of the season for 2015/16, they have welcomed back a major asset.

Favourites to win all three of their matches at home, the key will be how Racing fare on the road.

One to watch: Henry Chavancy

Uncapped by France and heading into his tenth year with the club, Chavancy is one of the few players to have won both the Pro D2 and Top 14 title with Racing. Not the tallest or heaviest, but a seriously powerful runner and the heartbeat of the club.

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