Monday 23 January 2017

POOL FIVE

Hugh Farrelly

Published 07/11/2011 | 05:00

HC best -- Pool exit

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Last season -- Pool exit

Treviso are a decent outfit who cannot be dismissed summarily with the customary 'Italian whipping boys' tag. A mid-table position in the Pro12 proves as much and they are a formidable proposition as home, as Perpignan discovered when going down 9-8 there a couple of years ago. However, Treviso's most significant role could be in their capacity to prevent the three other teams from picking up bonus points.

Key player -- Alessandro Zanni: A fabulous player who would garner more plaudits were it not for Sergio Parisse next to him in the Italian back-row.

One to watch -- Tommaso Benvenuti: Only 20, but much is expected from the Italian international winger.

BIARRITZ

HC best -- Beaten finalists 2006, 2010

Last season -- Quarter-finalists

Not looking good for the 2010 beaten finalists, who have been in abject form in the Top 14 -- their last outing was a 41-0 humiliation in Clermont. Their struggles could have two effects, either they concentrate all their resources on the Top 14 or look to Europe to lift them. There is still lots of talent in the squad and any team with Imanol Harinordoquy cannot be discounted. Treviso's presence opens a second qualification slot and Biarritz's capacity to fill it will be clearer after their opening trip to the Ospreys.

Key player -- Imanol Harinordoquy (right): Showed at the World Cup that he is one of the world's best back-rows.

One to watch -- Taku Ngwenya: The fastest player in the competition, the American winger in full flight is some spectacle.

OSPREYS

HC best -- Quarter-finals 2008, 2009, 2010

Last season -- Pool exit

Coach Sean Holley is desperately trying to banish the glamour boy image with his crackdown on false tan and fancy footwear, and Ospreys, along with all the Welsh regions, are looking to benefit from Wales' World Cup achievements. There is enough ability in the Ospreys squad to get into the quarter-finals in the runner-up slot, but no confidence that they will still be around come May.

Key player -- Dan Biggar: Talented out-half who needs to be a more dominant presence if the Ospreys are to prosper.

One to watch -- Kahn Fotuali'i: A great signing, the Samoan scrum-half turned in some eye-catching World Cup displays while other team-mates were below par.

SARACENS

HC best -- Semi-finalists 2008

Last season -- Pool exit

This is Saracens' pool to lose and their Springbok influence has proved to be significant rather than an exchange-rate exercise. The trip to South Africa for the clash with Biarritz in Round 5 breaks new ground for the competition. Saracens should be up and running by then, starting with a tasty opener at home to Treviso next weekend. Their compelling form in the English Premiership has infused the side with confidence and Mark McCall's outfit are dark horses for the title, boosted by the final taking place in London.

Key player -- Schalk Brits: One of the world's premier hookers, when Brits goes well, so do Sarries.

One to watch -- Owen Farrell: The young midfielder is emerging from the shadow of father, Andy, and is ready to take it up a notch.

PREDICTION: Saracens, Ospreys

Irish Independent

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