By Andy McGeady | Heineken Cup preview
Another Autumn rolls around. The sun shines a little lower, scarves emerge from cupboards and there’s the faint smell of liniment in the air around the rugby fields of Europe. The Heineken Cup is back. This season’s contenders break down into four main groups.
- Those who have a very good shot.
- Those who have some sort of a shot.
- The rank outsiders.
- And those whose chance of winning the title is about as likely as the Aviva Premiership chairmen getting together to release a book of haikus, each describing a unique and touching aspect of their long-hidden and aching love for the ERC’s organisation of European rugby.
The Main Contenders:
Toulon (7/2), Clermont (5/1), Toulouse (7/1), Saracens (7/1), Leinster (8/1)
Toulon and Clermont Auvergne, last season’s winner and runner-up, are top of the betting lists entering the 2012/13 tournament at 7/2 and 5/1 respectively.
Leinster’s 8/1 odds seem rather ungenerous considering they couldn’t get out of last season’s pool, have lost Jonathan Sexton, Isa Nacewa and Eoin O’Malley and are currently operating without Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings and perhaps even Brian O’Driscoll.
A complicating factor is that both Toulouse and Saracens are in the same group, albeit balanced by having both Connacht (1001/1) and Zebre (2000/1) along to keep them company. Those two clubs would find mention in at least half of the Premiership chairmen’s haikus. And those odds aren’t typos.
You Know What? We’ve Got A Shot:
Leicester (14/1), Ulster (14/1), Munster (16/1), Northampton (20/1), Racing Metro (25/1), Montpellier (33/1).
Each in this group would need a lot to go right to stand a chance, particularly Leicester, Ulster and Montpellier who have each other to contend with in a brutal Pool 5. If either of the three managed to secure a home quarter final, however, few would want to travel to face them.
Montpellier in particular look cracking value at 33/1 – if they don’t let put all their efforts into winning their domestic league.
Munster are a side emerging from transition and those 16/1 odds depend very much on how far along their journey a punter thinks they are. If the job is done, a quarter final is there for the taking for last season’s beaten semi-finalists, as reflected in their 4/6 to top Pool 6. If it’s not, Perpignan and Gloucester are certainly good enough to give them serious problems.
Ospreys, Glasgow, Harlequins, Perpignan (all 40/1), Castres (66/1), Gloucester (100/1), Scarlets (150/1), Exeter (200/1), Cardiff (200/1).
Rugby is not a game that rewards fluke over a full competition. For some perspective, here’s the pre-tournament odds of the last four Heineken Cup champions:
- 2013: Toulon (17/2)
- 2012: Leinster (9/2)
- 2011: Leinster (12/1)
- 2010: Toulouse (7/1)
Outsiders to make the semi’s:
A more reasonable but still lofty target for these teams would be a semi-final.
After all, with a few good home wins and the wind at their backs seeing some of those teams reach and win a quarter final wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of the imagination.
(Scarlets, Exeter and Cardiff perhaps excepted).
Edinburgh (250/1), Treviso (425/1), Connacht (1000/1), Zebre (2000/1)
Greedy Italy. Taking cash from English clubs. Scots, Welsh, Irish too.
- Betting: Scrum down for all the latest Heineken Cup odds here
- Get the lowdown on the weekend’s games at a glance here