Champions Cup preview: Pool 3

Date published: November 11 2015

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Our latest preview ahead of the European Champions Cup looks at Pool 3, containing Glasgow, Northampton, Racing 92 and Scarlets.

In one of the most intriguing pools due to form and quality, Northampton and Racing 92 are the favourites but no one can be written off.

Let's take a closer look at the teams.

Glasgow

The PRO12 champions enter this pool as third favourite, according to the bookmakers, behind Northampton and Racing 92, but they cannot be written off as winners in this group. Last season saw just how strong this Warriors squad is as during November and the Six Nations they put in some excellent performances, despite missing over 20 players from their first-team squad. That in part helped them to PRO12 glory.

Losing DTH van der Merwe to pool rivals the Scarlets is cushioned by the arrival of Taqele Naiyaravoro on the wing while Gregor Townsend boasts international class thoughout his group, with offloading genius Leone Nakarawa one of their star performers during recent seasons.

Despite winning three of their six matches last year, Glasgow missed out on progression from the pool stages as Bath moved forward out of their group as the Warriors finished third. This season they will fancy their chances as Northampton and Racing 92 aren't in the greatest of form in their respective domestic competitions and with the Scarlets missing a handful of star men, Pool 3 is definitely up for grabs.

The Warriors start with a tough trip to Paris and that may be a blessing in disguise as although Racing have won six of their eight games so far in the Top 14, they remain without Dan Carter and could be caught cold by a Glasgow side who are more than capable of an away win.

If Glasgow can shock Racing 92 then a home clash with Northampton follows and a chance to take the driving seat in Pool 3 before home and away games against the Scarlets. Winning the pool would be the another big step for them after last season's PRO12. They are real threats.

One to watch: Leone Nakarawa

He creates so much for his team-mates with that unrivalled ability to offload whilst in contact. His collegues feed off the Fijian while his pace with ball in hand also makes him a tough man to bring down. Opponents will no doubt be doing their research on how to stop him.


Northampton

Northampton were comprehensively beaten by Clermont in the quarter-final stage of last season's competition as not having the injured Ben Foden and concussed George North didn't help their cause. They finished the pool stage as one of the best runners-up while credit must go to their attacking game as they scored the most tries during the groups, albeit with minnows Treviso being one of their pool opponents.

This season hasn't started at all well for the Saints in the Premiership as they sit in tenth position after just one win from four games so the pressure is on Jim Mallinder's men to recapture their top form in their home opener against the Scarlets, who are a dangerous side.

Dylan Hartley and Kieran Brookes are strong in the front-row and on his day Alex Corbisiero has proved he is a superb loosehead. Courtney Lawes and Christian Day can form a strong engine room while Tom Wood, Sam Dickinson, Jamie Gibson and Calum Clark will hope to prove Samu Manoa exit is not too costly. The backline is also solid on paper but there are definitely whispers Saints aren't as strong as they were.

As mentioned they host the Scarlets in Round One and despite the Welsh region's injury absences, Wayne Pivac has built a side that fears no-one so Northampton will have to be at their best to avoid the worst possible start. They then travel to Glasgow before a trip to Paris kick starts their back-to-back games against Racing 92. It is a tough campaign that Saints will need to be at their best to come out of.

One to watch: George North

Northampton sorely missed their Welsh international last season and having him back after the Rugby World Cup is a massive boost to their backline. North amazingly finished top of the Champions Cup try chart on seven in 2014/15 despite playing just five games. A unique talent.


Racing 92

From looking good as top seeds heading into the knockout stage to being bowled out of the competition at the quarter-finals, it was a poor campaign for Racing in 2014/15. Saracens were the side to send them crashing out in Paris as the English won 12-11 at Stade Yves-du-Manoir.

Possessing plenty of star names in their squad, the big-spending Top 14 outfit were pipped by Saracens as an impressive pool victory over Northampton at Franklin's Gardens went to waste. Again Racing have spent the cash to try and progress further in the European showpiece.

Of course this is a strong squad named by Racing 92, with Dan Carter, Chris Masoe, Ben Tameifuna and Yannick Nyanga just a handful of new arrivals replacing the likes of Jonathan Sexton, Jamie Roberts, Sona Taumalolo and Brian Mujati. Carter's arrival holds the most intrigue but he won't be available until Round Three against Northampton, which is a blow for the team's pool openers against Glasgow and Scarlets.

Can they sustain strong performances against tough opposition as there will be no easy games in this group, especially on the road? There lies the big question of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers' men, who begin at home to Glasgow. Amazingly that opener could make or break their campaign as the Warriors will arrive undaunted and looking to make a statement. Racing 92 must be ready otherwise the pressure's on ahead of going to Llanelli where the Scarlets rarely lose. It's a fascinating pool and one the Parisians must be at their best throughout.

One to watch: Juan Imhoff

He was brilliant for Argentina in the recent Rugby World Cup and Racing 92 will hope he transfers that form into club colours. Imhoff can sense an opportunity in broken defences and with Dan Carter set to be available by Round 3, watch these two combine in a superb backline.


Scarlets

The rank outsiders with the bookmakers in this group but we wouldn't be so fast as to write them off completely, even with Liam Williams, Scott Williams and Steven Shingler currently injured. They possess real quality in their squad and the way Wayne Pivac has them playing don't be surprised to see the Welsh claim a few victories, especially at Parc y Scarlets where they are extremely difficult to overcome.

New wing DTH van der Merwe has added an electric finishing outlet to their backline, which is now coached by Stephen Jones, while Gareth Davies showed during the World Cup he is also no stranger to the try-line so they have scoring options to go with strength up front from the likes of Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Jake Ball and John Barclay. Their star player so far this season though is flanker James Davies, who can bring a shock tactic to their pool rivals as teams in the PRO12 are finding it difficult to contain the small but powerful back-row.

They begin their pool at Northampton and the Scarlets will look to play on the fact the Saints struggling in the Premiership so if they could silence the crowd and cause a shock, expect many pundits to sit up and take note of their credentials before they host Racing 92.

Can they top the pool? Maybe we won't go that far but expect them to take points off their rivals in what should be a fascinating group.

One to watch: James Davies

He has won a few man of the match awards in the PRO12 so far this season and Europe is the next to see the talent that is Davies. He made noise on the World Sevens Series as a regular scorer for Wales and has been a revelation for the Scarlets since his debut. Watch him go.

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