Tuesday 12 December 2017

Guide to Heineken Cup: Pool Three

Hugh Farrelly

HC best -- Champions 1998

Last season -- Pool exit

The fixtures have fallen nicely for Bath, who have Glasgow away followed by Montpellier at home and, with money not a problem, the English outfit have considerable depth in their squad; the problem is a shortage of established international quality, as evidenced by their mid-table status in the English Premiership. They badly need Stephen Donald to bring his World Cup confidence to The Rec, but their qualification hopes rest on their pack performance, where they appear underpowered.

Key player -- Michael Claassens: Classy South African scrum-half, one of the best in the competition.

One to watch -- Stephen Donald: Arrives on a high but this is a player whose career has been defined by inconsistency -- when he is good, he is very, very good.


HC best -- Quarter-finalists 1998

Last season -- Pool exit

While Bath will fancy their chances in Firhill, Glasgow resolve is steeled by the weekend win in Aironi and a solid start (five wins from eight) to their Pro12 campaign. Limited in the backline, Glasgow's strength lie in their back five based around Scotland regulars John Barclay, Johnny Beattie, Alistair Kellock and Richie Gray. It is enough to make them competitive but qualifying for the quarters looks to be an aspiration too far.

Key player -- John Barclay: Glasgow's best player and a superb open-side who is driven to win turnovers and disrupt opposition ball.

One to watch -- Richie Gray: Has lived up to the hype and the leviathan second-row has enough experience behind him now to really make an impression.


HC best -- Champions 2009, 2011

Last season -- Champions

That old second-season syndrome chestnut has to be negotiated after last season's wonderful effort. Nathan Hines will be missed but the squad is still packed with strength and skill and contains a host of Ireland players looking to banish World Cup hangovers -- and Joe Schmidt will have been delighted by Jonathan Sexton's form on his return from New Zealand. Brian O'Driscoll's availability for the big matches will be vital but Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley are quality back-ups.

Key player -- Sean O'Brien (right) : Last season's European Player of the Year is set to pick up where he left off. Teams may know about the Tullow back-row but that does not mean they can stop him.

One to watch -- Dominic Ryan: Ireland need scavenging open-sides, and Ryan is a live contender -- if he can force his way into the Leinster back-row.


HC best -- First season

Last season -- N/A

You get the feeling that their debut campaign hinges on how well they fair against the champions at home first up. Any team coached by Fabien Galthie has to be respected and they are a side well worth watching, but a lack of experience in the competition could count against them. Their poor domestic form does not inspire confidence, but it could focus minds for Europe.

Key player -- Francois Trinh-Duc: Lost his No 10 shirt to Morgan Parra during France's inconsistent World Cup campaign but remains a quality playmaker.

One to watch -- Fulgence Ouedraogo: Another who could not make France's starting XV, the 25-year-old captain and flanker should be hitting his peak.


Irish Independent

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