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European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup groups guide

Published 13/10/2016

Last season’s beaten Irish Junior Cup finalists Instonians suffered a shock 30-26 defeat to Bandon in the competition over the weekend (Stock picture)
Last season’s beaten Irish Junior Cup finalists Instonians suffered a shock 30-26 defeat to Bandon in the competition over the weekend (Stock picture)

The European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions look set to provide another season of gripping action, all leading to the finals at Murrayfield in Edinburgh next May.

The five pool winners in each competition will secure quarter-final places, together with the the three best runners-up. Here, Press Association Sport looks at how the pool stages could pan out in both tournaments.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP

Pool One: Former European champions Leicester and Munster have been drawn alongside each other, together with last season's Champions Cup runners-up and French title holders Racing 92, plus Gregor Townsend's impressive Glasgow Warriors. Bonus points - especially away from home - seem set to decide the outcome, with Dan Carter's Racing the likely winners.

Pool Two: The group should be dominated by four-time European champions Toulouse and twice tournament winners Wasps, although Guinness PRO12 title holders Connacht will be no pushovers, especially in Galway, but Italian minnows Zebre are likely to prove cannon fodder. Wasps won a fearsome group last season that also included Toulon, Bath and Leinster, and they could finish as top dogs again.

Pool Three: Another likely two-horse race, this time between French heavyweights Toulon and Champions Cup holders Saracens, who meet in France on Saturday. Saracens look the stronger of the two on paper and have a hardened big-game pedigree that will make them tough to topple. Sale Sharks and sole Welsh side the Scarlets appear to be playing for third and fourth.

Pool Four: Past European Cup winners Leinster and Northampton are joined by European Challenge Cup holders Montpellier and their Top 14 rivals Castres for what is a fiendishly-difficult group to predict. All four teams are capable of beating each other on their day, but Jake White's Montpellier - if they can pick up points on the road - could prevail.

Pool Five: Difficult to look past current French Top 14 leaders Clermont Auvergne as group winners, and the pool could be shaped by their opener away against last season's beaten Aviva Premiership finalists Exeter on Sunday. The Chiefs are good enough to push Clermont all the way, with Ulster and Bordeaux-Begles possibly a short distance behind.

EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP

Pool One: This season's French Top 14 surprise package La Rochelle could take the group by storm, especially given that rivals Bayonne are bottom of the same league and Gloucester are struggling for Aviva Premiership consistency. Italians Treviso, meanwhile, are unlikely to threaten.

Pool Two: Welsh challengers the Ospreys, with their array of internationals, appear marginal favourites to lead the way, although none of their away games - against Newcastle, Grenoble and Lyon - could be considered straightforward. Points collected on the road could prove crucial.

Pool Three: Brive, European Cup winners 19 years ago and currently seventh in the Top 14, look to have the edge in a group also featuring Worcester, Newport Gwent Dragons and Russian side Enisei-STM. Worcester and the Dragons head to Russia this month for what will be testing trips, but Brive look the strongest all-round side.

Pool Four: Fierce west country rivals Bath and Bristol are grouped together, along with a resurgent Cardiff Blues and French hopefuls Pau. Bath and the Blues are likely to be the dominant forces, with the outcome possibly being decided by back-to-back fixtures between them in December.

Pool Five: Harlequins and Stade Francais, who met in the 2011 Challenge Cup final, are set to hold sway in a group that also includes Edinburgh and Timisoara Saracens, a Romanian club making a European tournament debut. Quins should have enough to top the pool.

Press Association

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