The following is an overview of the possible outcomes from each Heineken Cup Pool.
Pool 1: Leinster, Ospreys, Castre, Northampton
This is very tough group. Northampton are in rude health near the top of the Aviva Premiership and will target qualification for the quarter-finals. Castre will play hard at home, but due to the fact they are struggling in the Top 14 they will not concentrate on the Heineken Cup and will probably send weakened teams to fulfil the away fixtures. Leinster have their bogey team Ospreys, in the group. Their 1st pool game away to Ospreys will tell a tale. Ospreys may upset teams but are unlikely to qualify from the group. Northampton or Leinster to progress. But only one team likely to make it out of this group as points will be hard earned.
Pool 2: Exeter, Toulon, Cardiff, Glasgow
Toulon are the obvious favourites to qualify from this group. It is Exeter’s 2nd foray into Europe. Last year they didn’t get close to qualifying and it is unlikely to change this year. They are unlikely to prioritise qualification, as the Aviva Premiership is their 1st priority. Cardiff do not seem to have the fire power to progress and have their hands full with the Pro 12. But Glasgow, undefeated in the Pro 12, could possibly cause an upset. Their 1st game away to Toulon will give an indication of that possibility. But barring some shock results Toulon should make it out comfortably.
Pool 3: Toulouse, Connacht, Saracens, Zebre
Saracens and Toulouse could both progress from this group. It depends on how successfully they perform against Connacht and Zebre. If both teams fire on all cylinders throughout their pool games both could accumulate enough points to get out of the pool. Neither Connacht nor Zebre have the firepower or form to compete with enough consistency to qualify for the play-offs, but both would relish a big scalp at some point during the pool games. Saracens and Toulouse to progress.
Pool 4: Llanelli, Clermont, Harlequins, Racing Metro
This is the most difficult pool to predict. Llanelli are the team least likely to progress. Like Cardiff they are sitting in the lower half of the Pro 12 and seem to lack the fire power to compete consistently. Harlequins are on a surprisingly bad run of form in the Aviva and their interest in the Heineken will be determined by the success of their 1st two pool games. Two wins would do wonders for their confidence and make the Heineken a focal point. One would expect Clermont and Racing Metro to be contenders for the Heineken. But both teams are not firing in the Top 14 and are mid-table in a very competitive tournament. Like Harlequins the French team’s interest in the Heineken will be determined by the success or otherwise of their 1st two pool games. Any one of these three sides could qualify.
Pool 5: Treviso, Montpellier, Ulster, Leicester
Another pool where two teams could progress but that escape by the runner-up will not be easy. Ulster are capable of beating everybody in their pool at home, but as usual, their away form will determine their progress. Leicester are of the same ilk as Ulster. Montpellier are level with Toulon at the summit of the Top 14 and may be happy enough with that success. Despite Treviso no longer being the whipping boys of the Pro 12 they will not progress. At the same time they won’t be a soft touch for bonus points, especially when at home. Bonus points may be crucial to getting out of this pool as a runner up but they will be hard earned. Ulster and Leicester to qualify.
Pool 6: Edinburgh, Gloucester, Perpignan, Munster
Munster are favourites to progress here, but they can’t afford any slip ups. Edinburgh are in woeful form rooted to the bottom of the Pro 12. They are way off the pace. Perpignan are just hanging on to a play-off place in the Top 14 with a long season still ahead. They will be tough to beat at home but have no real interest in wasting energy in Europe. Gloucester are a dangerous team and can play sparkling rugby. But at the moment they are blowing hot and cold in the Aviva Premiership and paying the price languishing near the bottom of the table. Perpignan and Gloucester could be dangerous, but Munster to win this pool.