Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Tyrone Howe: Leinster simply cannot afford to get off to another poor start

It is a close call which of Ulster’s biggest provincial rivals has the harder task in Europe this season, but Leinster’s battle in pool two looks more like the so-called Group of Death.

All the talk is about the French teams Racing Metro and Clermont, but Saracens have a massive role to play.

While I cannot see them qualifying, they will surely cause someone a serious upset.

Last year, Leinster lost their opener against London Irish and fought their way out of the most challenging situation.

Lose this weekend to Racing and it becomes a war that they are unlikely to win this time around. While Heineken experience counts for a lot, on paper Clermont are my favourites to qualify.

Starting away to Premiership leaders, London Irish, will suit Munster just fine.

They are past masters of away bonus points only to shut out opponents in the return fixture at Thomond Park. Invariably, the final game is crucial and Munster’s aim will be to have control of their own destiny when the Exiles visit Limerick in Round Six.

It is a brave man who will bet against the men in red.

In terms of ultimate winners, it is hard to see past Toulouse as they have the easiest of the groups and should canter to a home quarter-final.

Last year I chose Clermont and they should have at least made the semi-finals had Brock James not imploded in the last quarter against Leinster.

However, as an outside bet, I fancy Northampton.

In giant prop Soane Tongauiha they have a potential player of the tournament, but the big question mark is whether their halfbacks are good enough to take them all the way.

However, a home quarter-final at Franklins Gardens is well within their grasp, and then it is all about cup rugby.

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