European Rugby Champions Cup: Round 1Previews & Expert Panel Picks

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Leinster and Wasps meet again in the same pool, like last year
Leinster and Wasps meet again in the same pool, like last year

New York, NY – The second year of the European Rugby Champions Cup kicks off this weekend. This year’s tournament will likely be even more competitive than last year and the tournament’s previous incantation as the Heineken Cup. We hope the rugby on display is as fluid and intensive. Whatever may happen this weekend, fans can relax by knowing it is only the first round. Though a great start and big win will help garner momentum for each club European campaign. Before we get into the News and Notes, here are our Expert Panel’s Picks:

The Expert Panel Picks
The panel this year has changed a bit. Back is the “rugby rain manJunoir Blaber, the “face of RWU”  Johnathon Wicklow Barberie, the “dirtiest player in rugby historyDeclan Yeats, and our man in France, “the Top 14 expert“, James Harrington. New to the panel are the Philly fanatic of stats, Jake Frechette and “Le Wolf Of Wheelchairs” Ronan Nelson.Today’s piece is a joint project between Nelson and myself. The summary of the panel picks were written by me, while he wrote the match previews.

As for some of the picks, it appears nobody wants any part of Treviso, and the Italians have yet to be picked to win a game in the history of the Panel . Nelson and Yeats have faith in Stade Francais’ strength, but everyone else thinks Leicester will prevail at home.

Pool One
Ulster travel to the French Alps to take on debutants Oyonnax in a high altitude clash on Saturday night. Coming off there best ever finish in the Top 14 last year (6th), the French outfit will look to get a good result in their first ever Champions Cup match while the Ulstermen will see this as an opportunity to redeem themselves after last year’s heavily criticized European campaign.

French heavyweights Toulouse will travel to Allianz Park Saturday to play a Saracens side looking for retribution after crucial errors sent them out of the tournament in last year’s semi finals. The French team will look for their first win under the guidance of new coach Ugo Mola, and French and Toulouse captain Thierry Dusautoir will line up alongside his international teammate Louis Picamoles in an effort to exert power over the Sarries pack at scrum time.

Expert Panel Thoughts:
apparently our French Rugby expert Mssr. Harrington sees something in Oyonnax that no one else does and backs them to win at home. Meanwhile only Nelson and JWB pick Saracens to protect their house against an inform Toulouse. Yeats won’t pick an English side so he backs the Ospreys while Harrington appears to favor the more ERCC experienced side.

Brice Dulin will try and spark the Racing attack from the back
Brice Dulin will try and spark the Racing attack from the back

Pool Two
Current Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne travel to Bordeaux-Begles, and Bordeaux can already feel the enormity of this clash with the French heavyweight. Camille Lopez, Nick Abendenon, and David Strettle Will be the main concern for Bordeaux as the hosts might have to start looking for a losing bonus point early in the game.

Coming off an excellent victory over Leicester last weekend, Exeter will look to see off a weak Ospreys side in their opening pool two fixture. The ospreys will look to silence Exeter’s current form with a win that might just kick start both their European and domestic campaigns.

Expert Panel Thoughts:
Yet again Mssr. Harrington picks a hosting French side in Bordeaux. Apparently winning at home is big in the Top 14 and facing an opponent they know well, he leans toward Bordeaux while the rest of the panel goes with the new boys Exeter.

Pool Three
After a run to the quarterfinals in Europe last year, newly renamed Racing 92 will take on the 2014/15 Pro12 Champions Glasgow Warriors at le Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir. Finally replenished by the return of several World Cup stars including Scottish internationals Jonny Gray and Finn Russell, the Warriors will see this opening fixture as an opportunity to earn an all-important away win against a Dan Carter-less Racing side coming off a heavy lost to Castres last weekend.

Current Pro12 leaders Llanelli Scarlets will leave the comfort of Wales Saturday night to take on Northampton Saints at Franklin Gardens. After coming off two consecutive defeats to Saracens and Sale, Northampton will need a quality performance to kickstart their campaign against a Scarlets team that has only been made stronger by the return of World Cup players like Canadian DTH Van Der Merwe and Welshman Jonathan Davies.

Expert Panel Thoughts:
It is a good thing that there is not a need for a unanimous decision among the panel. All were in favor of a Racing 92 except the man from Philly, Jake the Snake. Meanwhile there was near total agreement for the Saints and Scarlets match except for Nelson. What makes it a greater indictment is even Yeats who never picks and English club used his head over his heart and picked Saints.

Vereniki Goneva will be key to Leicester's hopes of securing a bonus point.
Vereniki Goneva will be key to Leicester’s hopes of securing a bonus point.

Pool Four
2014 Challenge Cup and Top 14 Champions Stade Francais make their first trip in eight years to Welford Road to take on a Leicester Tigers team coming off a tough Aviva Premiership loss to Exeter. Leicester will have to rely on the experience of Italian hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, England international Ben Youngs and Marcos Ayerza to weather a strong Stade Francais side led by Italian captain Sergio Parisse and returning scrum half Julien Dupuy.

Munster will be relishing the opportunity to play Italian side Treviso in this pool 4 clash at Thomond Park. After the departure of Paul O’Connell to Toulon, Munster will be looking to re-assert their European dominance while the Italians will be looking for any opportunity to counter attack against a defensively strong Irish side.

Expert Panel Thoughts:
It must the Irish first name kinship between Yeats and Nelson. For some reason those two will not back the English side at home and go with the visitors Stade Francais. Munster becomes the first team to get a unanimous vote of approval from the renovated panel. The key being that they are facing the perpetually hopeless Treviso.

Pool Five
In a replay of last year’s pool match up Leinster will take on the Wasps at the RDS in Dublin, a fixture that ended in a 25–20 win for the Irish province. Leo Cullen has made nine changes to his side since last weekend’s Pro 12 fixture, throwing in former Wasps men Eoin Reddan and Mike McCarthy to take on in London Side that has lost four of the last five matches against Irish provinces, and who are without James Haskell and Nathan Hughes.

Bath will travel to southern France to take on three-time champions Toulon and what is shaping up to be a fantastic clash between two powerful sides. Toulon seemed no less confident, and Bath will have to put their best foot forward to challenge the French in fortress Stade Felix Mayol.

Expert Panel Thoughts:
Tough to explain with the whole panel picking Leinster except none other than Junoir. Likely the big win earlier this year knocked Wasps out and I am backing the will for revenge in the black and gold. Meanwhile all figure Toulon are invicinble at home in the south of France.

That’s it for now! Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Nick Hall, DJ Eberle, Jake Frechette, Scheenagh Harrington, Jamie Loyd, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Ronan Nelson, Kaitlin McCabe, Rocky Brown and Declan Yeats, respectively.

And remember to stay low and keep pumping those legs!

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About Junoir Blaber 868 Articles
Born in Osu, Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Junoir Blaber is a rare commodity; while most Ghanians eat, sleep and dream Soccer (football), Junoir is all about Rugby. A self-proclaimed Rugbyologist, he has been involved in Rugby as a ref, coach, administrator and player since Columbus discovered Ohio. His useful/trivial rugby knowledge qualify Blaber as RWU's Senior Correspondent & known in rugby circles as The Rugby Rain Man. He can also be found moonlighting for our American partners at MeetTheMatts.com.