CASTRES, FRANCE – Just in case you had forgotten amid all the Heineken Cup hype, European rugby’s second-tier competition, the Amlin Cup, kicks off for possibly the last time on Thursday, October 10, 2013. Here’s Rugby Wrap Up’s special two-part pool-by-pool guide to the competition.
TEAMS: Biarritz / Oyonnax / Sale Sharks / Worcester Warriors
Why has Fate drawn Worcester, the bottom side in the Aviva Premiership, and Biarritz, the bottom side in the Top 14, together in Pool 1 of this season’s Amlin Cup? Is it so they can look forward to a little European respite from their domestic woes?
If so, Fate is cruel, for she has also drawn Oyonnax and Sale in the same Pool, which means it’s highly – that’s Everest-level highly – unlikely either of them will make it through to the knockout phase of the competition.
This season’s Sale is a far cry from last season’s. Sale v2012.13 had to wait until the start of the European Cup to record their first win, but Sale v2013.14 notched up three wins – against Bath, Gloucester and Wasps – in their first five games.
Oyonnax, meanwhile, have surprised many in their first Top 14 season – not least Clermont, Castres, Toulon and, ironically enough, Biarritz – who have all fallen to the curse of Stade Charles Mathon. It took a born-again Stade Francais to end a two-year unbeaten home run for Oyonnax and no one should fancy facing their hell-unleashed approach to rugby, at home or on the road.
HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Sale Sharks / Oyonnax / Biarritz / Worcester Warriors
TEAMS: Bath / Bordeaux / Newport-Gwent Dragons / Mogliano
Let’s start by stating the bleedin’ obvious. Italian National Championship of Excellence side Mogliano are no match for the other three teams in Pool 2. They’ll finish bottom of the table. In fact, it’s as likely as not that they’ll end up with no points.
Now that inconvenient truth is out of the way, this pool is much more difficult to call.
Bordeaux will be a tough proposition at home, especially if Pierre Barnard remembers his kicking boots, but the Top 14 side find life away from the safe confines of Stade Jacques Chaban-Delmas much more difficult.
So, it’s probably safe to say that six matches will decide this Pool. How Dragons and Bath fare in their meetings with Bordeaux, and their two clashes, at the Recreation Ground on October 19, and Rodney Parade in the penultimate match of the Pool stage in early January.
There’s little to choose between the two sides. After the opening five games in the Pro12, Dragons were sixth with 13 points. At the same stage in the Premiership, Bath were fourth with 14.
So, you pays your money and you takes your choice as to who will finish top. We’ve plumped for Dragons, but you’ll hear no complaints from us if you decide put the rent money on Bath instead. After all, it’s your money…
HOW THEY’LL FINISH: Newport-Gwent Dragons / Bath / Bordeaux / Mogliano
Log on tomorrow to find out how we think Pools Three, Four and Five will pan out.
What do you think of our pool-by-pool guide so far? As ever, comments are always welcome… and do look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.