The Big Questions As The Heineken Champions Cup Begins
CAN ANYONE STOP LEINSTER?
Er, is ‘no’ an acceptable answer?! Having completed the double last term, the boys in blue look only to be stronger, with enviable strength in depth across their entire squad. Under the leadership of their new Captain Fantastic, one Johnny Sexton, the drive for five doesn’t merely look possible; it’s actually getting tricky to imagine who could derail it. Their pool draw looks favourable – and the path to the final in Newcastle already looks inviting…
WILL IRISH EYES BE SMILING?
While there’s no dispute about who the primary provincial power is, it’s not all about Leinster – there are dreams of glory to the north and south too! Ulster will look to shrug off a poor season last time out, but it’s Munster who harbour real hopes of returning to glory. Semi-finalists in each of the last two seasons, they made some shrewd moves over the summer, adding Tadgh Byrne and Joey Carberry to an already impressive playing staff; in Johann van Graan’s first full season, a return to the final is a perfectly reasonable target to have…
ARRIVAL OF THE FITTEST
If there’s one way in which rugby has become more like soccer, it’s the fondness for splashing some cash. It’s pretty easy to identify the biggest spenders, too – because while Irish sides have made modest investments in the likes of Arno Botha and Joe Tomane, France has seen a spree of epic proportions! Expect to see the likes of All Black record-breaker Julian Savea, Wallabies colossus Kane Douglas, and even our own Simon Zebo strutting their stuff for various French sides – and try not to let the number of zeroes on the wage bill give you a headache!
THE HEALTH OF NATIONS
The Heineken Champions Cup might be the pinnacle of club rugby, but international action often takes its toll. With the small matter of the Six Nations looming in the middle of the season, and the not inconsiderable matter of next year’s World Cup on the horizon, there’s plenty for players and coaches to think about. Will we see players being rested – or, indeed, worked to a point of fatigue – as the year goes on? Questions of welfare have become more prominent in recent times; the on-field action is sure to be impacted at some point…
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