Champions Cup team-by-team guide: Lack of squad depth likely to prove Munster’s downfall

Champions Cup team-by-team guide: Lack of squad depth likely to prove Munster’s downfall

Simon Lewis previews the 20 teams aiming for glory as the Champions Cup kicks off this weekend.

Pool 1

Benetton Rugby

Head coach: Kieran Crowley

Captain: Alberto Sgarbi

Star Man: Federico Ruzza (lock)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 500/1

Form: Having qualified by right rather than geography for the first time, last season’s PRO14 quarter-finalists will relish the opportunity to prove their worth and win for the first time in the Champions Cup since 2014/15. Their patchy start to the current season can only improve with the return of their Italian World Cup contingent but it’s a very tricky pool.

Leinster

Head coach: Leo Cullen

Captain: Johnny Sexton

Star Man: James Ryan (lock)

Last season: Runners-up

Tournament Odds: 15/8 favourites

Form: An unbeaten start to their PRO14 campaign and enough bitterness from last season’s final loss to Saracens to mount a fresh bid for a record fifth Champions Cup title.

Lyon

Head coach: Pierre Mignoni

Co-Captains: Baptiste Couilloud & Felix Lambey

Star Man: Josua Tuisova (wing)

Last season: Fourth in pool

Tournament Odds: 100/1

Form: A rough, winless Champions Cup debut last season but early-season Top14 form, with eight wins from nine to top the table, suggests Lyon will be better-equipped this time.

Northampton

Head coach: Chris Boyd

Co-Captains: Teimana Harrison & Alex Waller

Star Man: Cobus Reinach (scrum-half)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 50/1

Form: Qualified courtesy of a strong finish as Saints got to grips with life under Boyd and have started strongly in the Premiership this season.

Pool 2

Exeter Chiefs

Head coach: Rob Baxter

Captain: Jack Yeandle

Star Man: Stuart Hogg (full-back)

Last season: Second in pool

Tournament Odds: 10/1

Form: Still waiting to crack the code that will allow them to transfer domestic success into a European challenge and this pool could be theirs for the taking.

Glasgow Warriors

Head coach: Dave Rennie

Co-Captains: Callum Gibbins & Ryan Wilson

Star Man: Adam Hastings (fly-half)

Last season: Quarter-finalists

Tournament Odds: 50/1

Form: A so-so start in the PRO14 does not augur well for a club that has under-achieved in Europe.

La Rochelle

Head coach: Ronan O’Gara

Captain: Romain Sazy

Star Man: Gregory Alldritt (back row)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 40/1

Form: Back for a second crack at the Champions Cup following a 2017/18 debut but middling form at home may mitigate against a full-on push for European glory.

Sale Sharks

Head coach: Steve Diamond

Captain: Jono Ross

Star Man: Faf de Klerk (scrum-half)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 80/1

Form: Challenge Cup semi-finalists for the last two seasons, Sale will need all their frontline stars on song for this year’s return to the Champions Cup.

Pool 3

Clermont Auvergne

Head coach: Franck Azema

Captain: Morgan Parra

Star Man: Damien Penaud (centre/wing)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 13/2

Form: Atoned for a rare non-appearance by winning last season’s Challenge Cup and will be the team to beat in this pool with all their World Cup stars back in harness.

Bath

Head coach: Stuart Hooper

Captain: Charlie Ewels

Star Man: Sam Underhill (flanker)

Last season: Third in pool

Tournament Odds: 80/1

Form: Pre-tournament boost with a league win over Northampton and plenty of firepower waiting to be unleashed.

Harlequins

Head coach: Paul Gustard

Captain: Chris Robshaw

Star Man: Kyle SInckler (tighthead prop)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 100/1

Form: Poor league form and little Champions Cup pedigree but with the capacity to spring a surprise.

Ulster

Head coach: Dan McFarland

Captain: Iain Henderson

Star Man: Marcel Coetzee (back row)

Last season: Quarter-finalists

Tournament Odds: 50/1

Form: After a near-miss at Leinster in last season’s quarter-finals, Ulster will be targeting at least a return to the last eight this time around and they appear to bubbling nicely so far as they adjust to life without Rory Best.

Pool 4

Munster

Head coach: Johann van Graan

Captain: Peter O’Mahony

Star Man: Andrew Conway (wing/full-back)

Last season: Semi-finalists

Tournament Odds: 20/1

Form: Three trips to the last four in three seasons but still lacking the squad depth to genuinely contend for silverware in Europe and despite the arrival of Stephen Larkham as a senior coach, there are now likely to be without fly-halves Joey Carbery and JJ Hanrahan for the early pool stages.

Ospreys

Head coach: Allen Clarke

Captain: Justin Tipuric

Star Man: Alun Wyn Jones (lock)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 500/1

Form: Woeful early-season performances in the PRO14 do not bode well for the Welsh region heading into this “pool of death”.

Racing 92

Head coach: Laurent Travers

Captain: Henry Chavancy

Star Man: Teddy Thomas (wing)

Last season: Quarter-finalists

Tournament Odds: 22/1

Form: A deep squad and deeper pockets have not translated into early-season promise so far for the Parisians as they lie 10th in the Top14 after nine games but Europe may stiffen their resolve.

Saracens

Head coach: Mark McCall

Captain: Brad Barritt

Star Man: Maro Itoje (lock)

Last season: Champions

Tournament Odds: 3/1 2nd favourites

Form: There may be trouble at home after being heavily punished by the Premiership for salary-cap breaches but unless they sacrifice their Champions Cup title defence in a bid to avoid relegation following their league points deduction, they will remain the team to beat.

Pool 5

Connacht

Head coach: Andy Friend

Captain: Jarrad Butler

Star Man: Jack Carty (fly-half)

Last season: Failed to qualify

Tournament Odds: 100/1

Form: Coming off a heavy home defeat in the league to Leinster will only add to the perception that Connacht are the outsiders in this pool but they are more than capable of springing a surprise or two in this company.

Gloucester

Head coach: Johan Ackermann

Captain: Willi Heinz

Star Man: Franco Mostert (lock)

Last season: Fourth in pool

Tournament Odds: 33/1

Form: Have too often not added up to the sum of their parts but can be formidable opponents, especially on home soil at Kingsholm.

Montpellier

Head coach: Xavier Garbajosa

Captain: Louis Picamoles

Star Man: Handré Pollard (fly-half)

Last season: Second in pool

Tournament Odds: 33/1

Form: Continuing to punch below their weight at home and in Europe but with the talent to go far in this season’s Champions Cup, if they can get their heads in the right place.

Toulouse

Head coach: Ugo Mola

Captain: Julien Marchand

Star Man: Cheslin Kolbe (wing)

Last season: Semi-finalists

Tournament Odds: 7/1

Form: Another French heavyweight with iffy domestic form but having returned to Europe’s elite last season, Toulouse should be contending to pip Leinster to that record fifth title.

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