Sunday 25 March 2018

Heineken Cup 2012 - 2013: Pool-by-pool guide


Pool 1


Coach: Rob Penney (New Zealand)

Last season: Quarter-finals

Squad depth: New faces have arrived to replace those who have retired, but Penney's options are not what his predecessors had in recent years.

Star turn -- Ronan O'Gara: Even at 35, Munster need their out-half to fire on all cylinders to make an impact this season. His heroics got them through last year's pool.

Prospects: Need a good start in Paris to get out of a tough pool. Not as strong as other years, but retain a core of European experience.


Coach: Michael Bradley (Ireland)

Last season: Semi-finals

Squad depth: Struggled to match their European exploits in the Pro12 last season and have lost Mike Blair since then. Nowhere near as strong as the powerhouses.

Star turn -- David Denton: The Zimbabwean-born Scotland international burst on to the scene last year with a string of powerful displays. A ball-carrier on par with anything in the tournament.

Prospects: A repeat of last year's semi-final run looks unlikely after a tough draw.


Coach: Mark McCall (Ireland)

Last season: Quarter-finals

Squad depth: Haven't been able to match domestic form with European excellence since returning two seasons ago, but that is not down to a lack of resources.

Star turn -- Schalk Brits: South African hooker with a range of skills, the 31-year-old makes things happen for the Londoners.

Prospects: Moving their home game against Racing to Brussels is a risk, but have the capacity to top the pool.

Racing Metro

Coach: Pierre Berbezier (France)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: Despite not being as strong as their southern rivals, Metro retain plenty of options in most positions and are a real force.

Star turn -- Juan Martin Hernandez: An injury doubt this week after his Rugby Championship exploits with Argentina, the fly-half (above) remains a world-class act.

Prospects: Out of form and yet to make a European breakthrough, the Parisians look set to struggle early and lose interest.

Pool 2


Coach: Guy Noves (France)

Last season: Quarter-finals

Squad depth: Still big hitters, the French champions have a fine blend of French internationals and imported stars that should be able to balance domestic and European commitments.

Star turn -- Thierry Dusatoir: At 30, the France captain is one of the leading lights in back-row play and will be key to Toulouse's efforts as they look to reclaim their crown.

Prospects: Always competitive, having won two Top 14s in a row, they will be in the mix.

Leicester Tigers

Coach: Richard Cockerill (England)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: The salary cap has reined in Leicester's ability to compete as they once did and while they have plenty of big names, the attritional nature of the Premiership will hinder them.

Star turn -- Manu Tuilagi: Hard running centre with an eye for the try-line and a nose for controversy, big things are needed after his brother Allesana departed.

Prospects: If they can emerge from this tough pool they will be a threat, but remain an outside bet.


Coach: Steve Tandy (Wales)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: The Pro12 champions have lost a number of their stars, including Tommy Bowe and Shane Williams, and are not the same team as a result. they could still pose a threat, though.

Star turn -- George Stowers: The Samoan No 8 (below) is a major threat with ball in hand, committing defenders and making line breaks.

Prospects: Have threatened a breakthrough, but this squad does not look like it will be the one to deliver it.


Coach: Franco Smith (South Africa)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: Despite strong results in the Pro12, the Italians lack the squad to compete with the big boys in their pool.

Star turn -- Robert Barbieiri: Second on the Pro12 try-scoring list with six in six games, the Canadian flanker will need to be watched closely.

Prospects: A scalp or two at home maybe, but chances of emerging from the pool are closer to none than slim.

Pool 3


Coach: Laurent Rodriguez (France)

Last season: Amlin Challenge Cup winners

Squad depth: The former big guns are in danger of being left behind by their big-spending neighbours. Their squad certainly looks good on paper, but a number of key men are ageing.

Star turn -- Imanol Harinordoquy:-- Talismanic No 8 is 32 now, but still drives his local club from the back of the scrum.

Prospects: Wouldn't have qualified if they hadn't won the Challenge Cup and unlikely to be around late on this year.


Coach: Conor O'Shea (Ireland)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: The English champions are a formidable outfit with a blend of big names and up and coming youngsters. Not at the level of the big French club, but should top the pool.

Star turn -- Mike Brown: The full-back is the darling of the English at the moment after his big displays in the Premiership.

Prospects: Unlikely to repeat last season's breakdown and could be a real threat in the knockouts.


Coach: Eric Elwood (Ireland)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: Compared to their Irish rivals, they lack the resources to compete, but they have some quality individuals and are better than last year.

Star turn -- Robbie Henshaw: Elwood has tipped the 19-year-old (below) to play for Ireland and, as an unknown quantity, he could trouble defences in Europe.

Prospects: They got a kind draw and should beat Zebre twice and much will depend on rounds two and three where they welcome 'Quins and Biarritz to Galway.


Coach: Roberto Manghi (Italy)

Last season: NA

Squad depth: The weakest club in the competition, they are struggling to compete in the Pro12.

Star turn -- Mauro Bergamasco: Not the force of nature he once was, but the Italian international can still produce big performances.

Prospects: They'll be targeting their opening game at home to Connacht, but their outlook is bleak.

Pool 4

Northampton Saints

Coach: Jim Mallinder (England)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: There have been some personnel changes. James Downey, now at Munster, was a key member of the team while Ben Foden is injured. They have had a good start to their domestic campaign, but resources are thin.

Star turn -- Brian Mujati: the prop offers solidity and often dominance at the set-piece and he's at the forefront of a formidable pack.

Prospects: They'll have to beat Ulster in Ravenhill to guarantee progression and that's a big ask.


Coach: Mark Anscombe (New Zealand)

Last season: Beaten finalists

Squad depth: With an array of exciting young talent that picked up more game time in last season's run to the final, Ulster could be even better this term.

Star turn -- Ruan Pienaar: the scrum-half can move to 10 if required and is one of the best overseas players we have seen in these parts.

Prospects: They have started the season well and currently top the Pro12, and the ability to pick up crucial bonus points both home and away that they showed last season means they can top this pool.


Coach: Gregor Townsend (Scotland)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: Chris Cusiter's injury means he won't feature until round four of the pool stage and his experience is a loss. New coach Townsend's methods may take a while to bed in with the squad.

Star turn -- Ali Kellock: The captain is a handful for any team.

Prospects: Europe hasn't been kind to them in the past and it would be a surprise if that changed in this company.


Coach: Laurent Labit/Laurent Travers (France)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: They have quality, as showed when beating Clermont last weekend, but they seem to have prioritised the domestic competition to the European Cup.

Star turn -- Pedrie Wannenburg: Was a hit at Ulster and can be the same in France.

Prospects: Both coaches have signalled their intention to step down at the end of the season and that could have a negative effect.

Pool 5


Coach: Joe Schmidt (New Zealand)

Last season: Winners

Squad depth: An embarrassment of riches in certain areas and Lions wing Luke Fitzgerald is still to return, though the loss of Brad Thorn can't be underestimated.

Star turn -- Brian O'Driscoll: Still the go-to man for the all-conquering province.

Prospects: Already installed as favourites to win the tournament for an unprecedented third time in succession, Leinster have had a shaky start this season but will be at the business end of things.

Clermont Auvergne

Coach: Vern Cotter (New Zealand)

Last season: Semi-final

Squad depth: Options in almost every position that means they can wage war on both domestic and European fronts.

Star turn -- Morgan Parra: A host of big-name players but Parra makes them tick from scrum-half and is a reliable goal kicker.

Prospects: Can count themselves unlucky not to have beaten Leinster in last year's semi-final. They bridged a major gap when winning their first Top 14 title a couple of years back and are looking to break their European duck now.


Coach: Simon Easterby (Ireland)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: Laid down a marker with a demolition job on Leinster in the early stages of the Pro12 and have strengthened their forward options considerably with lock Johan Snyman the latest to sign on.

Star turn -- George North: He has five tries already so expect the behemoth back to cause opponents endless trouble this season.

Prospects: They haven't been out of the pool stages since 2007 and they'll have to produce something special to get in between Leinster and Clermont in this pool, though it is not beyond them.

Exeter Chiefs

Coach: Rob Baxter (England)

Last season: Did not compete

Squad depth: Will be stretched by the demands of a European and domestic season though they did reach the quarter-final of the Amlin last season.

Star turn -- Dean Mumm: The lock as 33 caps for Australia.

Prospects: First foray into this tournament after only two full seasons in the Premiership. They have a solid unit but might find the step up difficult.

Pool 6

Cardiff Blues

Coach: Phil Davies (Wales)

Last season: Quarter-final

Squad depth: Were totally outclassed in the quarter-final last year and three wins from six so far this term doesn't give confidence. The Welsh side have some real class in Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Andries Pretorius but fall away after that.

Star turn -- Jamie Roberts: His future with the region remains in doubt but he remains a key performer.

Prospects: Were the only Welsh region to get out of the pool last season and could repeat the trick this time around -- but it all depends on Toulon's mood.


Coach: Bernard Laporte (France)

Last season: Did not compete

Squad depth: They have pursued their aggressive recruitment policy with Danie Rossouw set to join the club in February, and they already have a host of big names there thanks to owner Mourad Boudjellal's spending.

Star turn -- Bakkies Botha: The Springbok is just one of Toulon's galaxy of stars.

Prospects: Capable of anything on paper but, as with many of the French teams involved, it depends on where their priorities lie for the season.

Sale Sharks

Coach: Bryan Redpath (Scotland)

Last season: Did not compete

Squad depth: Bolstered their squad by recruiting Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray, but their struggles so far suggest they have bigger problems.

Star turn -- Richie Gray: A marauding loose forward.

Prospects: If the start of the season is anything to go by (they have yet to win from their six outings), Sale are on a hiding to nothing, but they are better than what they have shown in previous campaigns.


Coach: Fabien Galthie (France)

Last season: Pool

Squad depth: They have missed the Argentinian contingent in recent weeks due tot heir involvement in the Rugby Championship but their return to the fold will bolster a decent outfit.

Star turn -- Francois Trinh-Duc: He can control from No 10.

Prospects: Could sneak into an Amlin Challenge Cup spot, but it's hard to look past Toulon to top the pool.

Irish Independent

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