Monday 23 October 2017

Guide to Heineken Cup: Pool Two

CARDIFF BLUES

HC best - Beaten finalists 1996

Last season - Pool exit

Decent form in the Pro12 (four wins from seven) guarantees nothing in Europe, but the Blues will fancy their chances of qualifying from this, less than intimidating, pool. However, their main men in the pack, Xavier Rush and Paul Tito, are getting a little long in the tooth and, Casey Laulala aside, they are short on quality out wide. Travelling to Paris to take on Racing is a hard opening assignment and it would be a surprise if Cardiff were in the last eight next spring.

Key player - Dan Parks: The out-half's kicking game, from the hand and off the tee, is frequently the difference between defeat and victory.

One to watch - Casey Laulala: A superb midfield operator, the All Black's penchant for finding gaps in massed defences makes him the Blues' most potent attacker.

PREDICTION: Racing Metro

EDINBURGH

HC best - Quarter-finalists 2004

Last season - Pool exit

Michael Bradley is doing his best with scant resources, but Edinburgh are up against it in this pool. Will be encouraged by a decent win in Treviso last Saturday and the unsettling environs of Murrayfield can provide a couple of home victories, but Edinburgh will be doing well not to prop up the pool when the fixtures play out.

Key player - Mike Blair (right): The Scotland and Lions scrum-half is a key leader for an Edinburgh squad in transition.

One to watch - Tim Visser: No longer a surprise package but the big winger keeps racking up the tries.

PREDICTION: Racing Metro

LONDON IRISH

HC best - Semi-finalists 2008

Last season - Pool exit

A reasonable start to the season sees Irish operating in the higher regions of the English Premiership, but they look short on quality to be Heineken Cup contenders.

Playing a nice style of rugby, the Exiles have pace in the back three but are short on back-five power and may lack the resources to successfully negotiate the rigours of a European campaign.

Key player - Paulica Ion: A big presence at scrum time, the Romanian tighthead is the Exiles' enforcer up front.

One to watch - Tom Homer: Versatile youngster who craves ball in space with the speed to make it count, excellent place-kicking skills add to his armoury.

PREDICTION: Racing Metro

RACING METRO

HC best - Pool exit 2011

Last season - Pool exit

Middling form in the Top 14 but back-to-back wins over Castres and Brive set them up nicely for their Heineken Cup opener at home to Cardiff. A prolonged run in Europe will appeal to club owners who recognise the glamorous aspect to this competition and Racing's squad mixes hard-nosed experience (Lionel Nallet, Andrea Lo Cicero) with youthful promise. If they get their heads right, the French can learn from last season's errors to make the last eight.

Key player - Juan Martin Hernandez: Missed at the World Cup, the Argentinian remains a quality playmaker.

One to watch - Fabrice Estebanez: The centre had a good World Cup and could have been deemed unlucky not to make the final ahead of Maxime Mermoz.

PREDICTION: Racing Metro

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