Champions Cup: Leinster face problem from Racing & Saracens for 2019 title
After ending backside of their pool two seasons beforehand, Leinster accomplished a outstanding turnaround by lifting the Champions Cup for a record-equalling fourth time in Bilbao in May.
Their defence begins on Friday as they entertain Wasps on this season’s match opener.
English champions Saracens, who received the Champions Cup in 2016 and 2017, clearly have the pedigree to problem for European rugby’s greatest prize once more.
Racing 92, defeated finalists final 12 months, now have British and Irish Lions Finn Russell and Simon Zebo amongst their ranks.
And Exeter and big-spending Montpellier even have huge aspirations.
However do any of them have what it takes to wrest the title away from the Professional14 champions?
Jamie Heaslip, who called time on a vastly profitable profession as Leinster and Eire quantity eight in February, joined former Lions, England and Harlequins wing Ugo Monye and BBC rugby union reporter Chris Jones to run the rule over the champions, challengers and ones to observe on this season’s competitors.
Who’s going to win?
Jamie: Leinster – The best way senior coach Stuart Lancaster has the staff enjoying is a method forward of a few of their rivals. They go up in opposition to some groups which can be lots larger than them bodily however transfer the ball so shortly from the purpose of contact that the large groups are usually not capable of set their line of defense.
They play and practice at such a quick tempo, I do not know if anybody else is doing that. It will likely be robust however the guys are fairly used to that and they’re going to relish it. They won’t get cocky or conceited, they’re a extremely good group with a fair higher tradition.
Ugo: Leinster – They’ll win their pool and, with a house quarter-final, they’re solely a few video games away from being again within the last.
It’s a barely completely different expertise this 12 months with everybody chasing them, however they’ve an excessive amount of expertise and power in depth, particularly with so a lot of their gamers peaking to struggle for a spot within the Eire World Cup squad.
Chris: Exeter – Rob Baxter’s males have a difficult pool, however I feel they may win it and march on from there. Have they got the firepower and sophistication to beat Europe for the primary time?
Who else are contenders for the title?
Jamie: I’m afraid of Racing 92. The additions they’ve made in the summertime are robust and so they even have Jordan Joseph, who’s simply 18 and was a monster quantity eight in France’s World Underneath-20 Championship win. What they’re creating there may be thrilling.
Ugo: The massive query round Saracens is are they capable of juggle the Premiership and Champions Cup? After doing the double in 2016, one thing has given on both the continental or home entrance in every of their final two campaigns.
They’ve an unimaginable squad, although, and so they’ve made historical past at the beginning of the season, changing into the primary staff to begin a Premiership campaign with five straight bonus-point wins.
Racing 92 have began the season properly, chalking up some huge wins in opposition to Castres, Stade Francais and Toulon within the Prime 14, and have added to an already first rate squad. Simon Zebo is having fun with life in Paris and has scored six tries already.
And Montpellier, with the backing of their proprietor Mohed Altrad, will probably be zeroing in on the one trophy they actually need. They’ve all the time acquired an opportunity with Fijian Nemani Nadolo on the wing. They’ve persistently threatened and, after disappointing pool-stage exits in every of the final two seasons, you’re feeling they could have additional focus this season.
Chris: Given the depth of their squad and their profitable expertise, Leinster ought to be clear favourites to repeat final 12 months’s success. Identical will be mentioned of Saracens. Each have a high-class enjoying and training employees and can absolutely progress into the latter levels.
Final 12 months’s crushed finalists Racing 92 will head the French problem, with earlier giants resembling Toulon struggling and Clermont not even certified. Elsewhere, Vern Cotter’s Montpellier have the instruments to go all the way in which.
5 gamers to observe
James Lowe (Leinster)
Jamie: Lowe had a protracted season after making the swap from the southern hemisphere, however he’s coming in contemporary and firing this marketing campaign. He’ll thrive within the free-flowing atmosphere that coach Lancaster is encouraging. He’s a giant man who can end. Give him a metre of area and he’s going to run straight over you, however he additionally has the talent to go spherical you or get the offload away as a substitute.
Leone Nakarawa (Racing 92)
Ugo: Nakarawa was named third in a rundown of the world’s 100 best players by Rugby World journal in February and it was totally deserved. The Fiji lock does issues that no different second row on earth can do, improvising basketball-style offloads out of the sort out to maintain the defence guessing. He clocked up 22 offloads in final season’s competitors, almost double what anybody else managed. He’s an all-round athlete as properly, as proved by his gold medal within the Olympic sevens in Rio.
Dan Leavy (Leinster)
Chris: Leinster’s relentless accuracy involved and on the breakdown was central to their success domestically and in Europe final season, with the likes of Leavy and James Ryan main the way in which regardless of their inexperience. Though they’ve quite a few choices within the again row, Leavy will play an enormous half within the defence of Leinster’s title.
Romain Ntamack (Toulouse)
Chris: The 19-year-old Toulouse fly-half is the son of former France star Emile and is a part of a crop of insanely proficient French kids who powered previous England on the way in which to profitable the World Underneath-20 Championship in the summertime.
Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets)
Chris: Recent from a breakthrough 12 months, uber-reliable centre Parkes is crucial to the Scarlets’ probabilities of repeating final season’s success, once they reached the semi-finals.
New season, new followers?
Ugo: The choice to take the ultimate to St James’ Park is sensible. It was an experiment to go to Bilbao for final 12 months’s and that labored very well.
St James’ Park hosted three video games in the course of the Rugby World Cup with greater than 50,000 at every, the Falcons played Northampton there in March in entrance of greater than 30,000 and England are heading up there to play Italy in September 2019 as properly.
It’s an iconic stadium in England and the ticket gross sales communicate volumes, with greater than 30,000 already offered. It’s nice to see rugby broadening its horizons and going to new territories.
Chris: Channel 4’s transfer into the rugby market means a handful of Champions Cup matches will be broadcast on free-to-air TV this season. That is extremely vital given how lengthy the European Cup has been subscription solely. The goal is to pressure the membership recreation – so usually in worldwide rugby’s shadow – into the sporting mainstream.