Champions Cup preview: Pool 2

Date published: November 11 2015

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Our second preview ahead of the European Champions Cup looks at Pool 2, containing Clermont Auvergne, Bordeaux-Bègles, Exeter Chiefs and Ospreys.

Last season's runners-up Clermont Auvergne are favourites to to top the pool but won't have it easy against the other three sides who are all keen to make an impression.

Let's take a closer look at the teams.

Clermont

France and Europe's perennial bridesmaids will be looking to go one better than their 2013 and 2015 exploits when they finished as runners-up in this competition to Toulon.

Apart from their two defeats to Toulon in this competition, Clermont have also lost in four Top 14 finals in the last 10 years. They kick off their 2015/16 Champions Cup campaign against countrymen Bordeaux-Bègles who are making their debut in the tournament.

Les Jaunards head into this season's tournament sitting at the top of the Top 14 table but suffered only their second loss of the season at the weekend against Stade Français.

Despite that result, Clermont will be full of confidence as they are still amongst the Champions' Cup's heavyweights. Amongst their established players the likes of Brock James, Wesley Fofana, Nick Abendanon, Scott Spedding, Noa Nakaitaci Damien Chouly, Julien Bardy and Benjamin Kayser will once again lead the way while they've bolstered their ranks with the acquisition of Springbok lock Flip van der Merwe and England wing David Strettle.

With the Champions Cup Final being played in Lyon on the weekend of the May 13, 2016, Clermont head coach Franck Azema will be hopeful that his side will finally get their hands on the elusive trophy.

One to Watch: Nick Abendanon

The full-back was one of the standout players in his first season with les Jaunards after his move from Bath. Abendanon was a revelation with ball in hand during Clermont's run to last season's final and was rewarded with European Player of the Year award for his efforts.


Bordeaux-Bègles

After beating Gloucester in their play-off, Bordeaux are gearing up for their first ever campaign in Europe's premier cup competition.

They were promoted to the Top 14 in 2011 and established themselves in the France's last year by finishing in seventh spot on the table. Bordeaux have gained a reputation as an enterprising side with counter-attacking one of their main strike weapons but despite lying seventh on the Top 14 table, they haven't reached last season's heights, when they were one of the leading attacking sides in France.

Since qualifying for the Champions Cup, Bordeaux have sacked their backline coach Vincent Etcheto and replaced him with former France wing Emile Ntamack who joined from Toulouse. With potent attackers like Metuisela Talebul, Felix Le Bourhis and Jean-Marcellin Buttin in their ranks and Lionel Beauxis pulling the strings at fly-half Bordeaux should provide opposing defences plenty of headaches.

Head coach Raphaël Ibanez has strengthened their ranks with the recruitment of Wallabies and Waratahs duo Adam Ashley-Cooper (utility back) and Sekope Kepu (tighthead prop) as well as promising Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff and Blues flanker Luke Braid. While Braid is expected to lead the challenge at the breakdown, Bordeaux also have excellent ball carriers in fellow back-rowers Loann Goujon and Peter Saili while lock Jandre Marais is one the team's unsung heroes who usually gets through plenty of work up front.

Bordeaux kick off their campaign at home at home against Clermont and will be buoyed by the fact that they scored more than 50 points against les Jaunards in a Top 14 match last season.

One to Watch: Adam Ashley-Cooper

The utility back was one of the Wallabies' star performers during their run to the Rugby World Cup Final where they lost to New Zealand. A skillful player with an eye for the gap, and the tryline, Ashley-Cooper's recruitment was a masterstroke by Bordeaux's management.


Exeter Chiefs

After two seasons in the Challenge Cup, Exeter are back with the big boys and judging from their start to the Aviva Premiership they will be competitive in the Champions Cup.

After losing their opening fixture to Bath, the Chiefs are on the up andrrently lying second in their domestic competition, after three successive victories.

Exeter will fancy their chances to progress from their pool and head coach Rob Baxter has made some shrewd signings to bolster their ranks.

While Italy centre Michele Campagnaro's recruitment from Treviso along with Bath wing Olly Woodburn will boost the backline stocks, it's the arrival of England lock Geoff Parling loose forward Julian Salvi from Leicester Tigers which has generated the most excitement from the Sandy Park faithful.

Parling is one of the best line-out exponents in Europe and his addition to the squad will add an extra dimension to the Chiefs' set-piece while Salvi gets through plenty of work up front, especially at the breakdowns where he usually wins his fair share of turnovers.

These new recruits join stalwarts like Thomas Waldrom Luke Cowan-Dickie and Dave Ewers in the pack while exciting backs like Henry Slade, Phil Dollman, Jack Nowell and Gareth Steenson have the abilty to unlock the tightest defences with their attacking ability.

One to Watch: Henry Slade

Although he didn't feature much during England's disastrous World Cup campaign, Slade is one of the most promising talents in Europe with a superb skillset. Although he features mostly as a centre nowadays, the 22-year-old can also play as a fly-half and should catch the eye with his playmaking abilities.


Ospreys

After a poor start to their PRO12 campaign, the Ospreys will be keen to get back their confidence with an impressive run in the Champions Cup.

The Welsh region have picked up just two wins from their first seven fixtures in the PRO12 but head into their Champions Cup opener against Exeter Chiefs on a high after registering a convincing win over Zebre at the weekend.

With Wales World Cup stalwarts like captain Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Scott Baldwin and Dan Biggar in their ranks they should be competive, especially at home but judging by their PRO12 form, they cuold struggle on the road.

Head coach Steve Tandy expects a tough battle in their opener against Exter but feels his side can kick off their campaign on a positive note.

“They’re probably similar to us in how we develop players," he said.

"It’s something we are particularly proud of too. So there are similarities between the clubs, but, ultimately, we can’t be paying them too much respect once we cross that whitewash."

One to Watch: Alun Wyn Jones

The Ospreys skipper was nominated for World Rugby's World Player of the Year award after several stellar performances for his region and Wales in recent seasons. Apart from his general play and line-out ability, which makes him one of the world's leading locks, his leadership is also crucial to his region's fortunes.

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