Con­tenders and pre­tenders

Stokes will give ‘public’ ex­pla­na­tion

The Guardian - Sport - - Rugby Union European Champions Cup - Ex­eter Le­in­ster Glas­gow Mont­pel­lier Cas­tres Mun­ster Le­ices­ter Rac­ing 92 Bath Toulon Scar­lets Tre­viso

Pool 3

Per­haps the most in­trigu­ing pool. Ex­eter are the Premier­ship cham­pi­ons, have started the sea­son well and are de­ter­mined to make their mark in Europe. Mont­pel­lier, how­ever, may just be the most in­tim­i­dat­ing team on the con­ti­nent, boast­ing so much power with Louis Pi­camoles, Ne­mani Nadolo and the Du Plessis broth­ers, as well as the shrewd guid­ance of Ruan Pien­aar and Aaron Cru­den. Le­in­ster have won the Euro­pean Cup three times and their im­pres­sive crop of young­sters will be all the bet­ter for their run to the semi-fi­nals in 2016-17. Glas­gow make up the group and, un­der Dave Ren­nie, they are the only un­beaten side in Europe’s top three leagues this sea­son.

Sam Simmonds (Ex­eter), Jack Co­nan (Le­in­ster), Ya­couba Ca­mara (Mont­pel­lier)


Play­ers to watch Pre­dicted pool win­ners Pool 4

A fa­mil­iar-look­ing pool, with Le­ices­ter, Mun­ster and Rac­ing grouped to­gether last sea­son. Rac­ing reached the fi­nal in 2016 but have gone off the boil since then, Mun­ster and Le­ices­ter are both in tran­si­tion and Cas­tres are renowned for be­ing poor trav­ellers in Europe. It means this pool is wide open and, while Le­ices­ter’s much-vaunted back­line is com­ing to­gether nicely, there are con­cerns over their for­ward power on away trips. It is likely that Mun­ster will see the best of their new coach, Jo­hann van Graan– who be­gins work next month – next sea­son, so per­haps this is the term that the Tigers roar in Europe again. Or maybe even Cas­tres if they can cure their travel sick­ness.

El­lis Genge (Le­ices­ter), Peter O’Ma­hony (Mun­ster), Pat Lam­bie (Rac­ing)

Play­ers to watch Pre­dicted pool win­ners


Pool 5

With what is now the sole Ital­ian team in the com­pe­ti­tion, this is sup­posed to be the most straight­for­ward pool. But both Tre­viso and Ze­bre have chalked up some eye-catch­ing wins so far this sea­son. That said, it is hard not to see this pool as a three-horse race, with Scar­lets hav­ing started the Pro14 in a sim­i­lar vein to how they fin­ished last term. Leigh Half­penny’s kick­ing could also be key against his for­mer team Toulon and one heav­ily linked with him over the sum­mer, Bath. The lat­ter have plenty of in­jury trou­bles and Fred­die Burns’s sus­pen­sion gives them a prob­lem at fly-half, while Toulon are a fad­ing force in Europe but still have a host of star names, in­clud­ing Chris Ash­ton.

Sam Un­der­hill (Bath), St­eff Evans (Scar­lets), Semi Radradra (Toulon)

Play­ers to watch Pre­dicted pool win­ners



five Ben Stokes will of­fer a full ex­pla­na­tion of the in­ci­dent in Bris­tol last month – which could cost the Eng­land all-rounder his Ashes place – “when the time is right”, his agent said yes­ter­day. Stokes was ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of ac­tual bod­ily harm fol­low­ing a dis­tur­bance out­side a night­club in the city on 25 Septem­ber. He will not travel to Aus­tralia with the rest of the Eng­land squad for this win­ter’s Ashes se­ries as he waits to learn whether he will face crim­i­nal charges. The 26-year-old has not been ruled out of In pic­tures the­guardian. com/ in­pic­tures the five-Test se­ries, which starts on 23 Novem­ber, but the Eng­land and Wales Cricket Board will not con­sider him for se­lec­tion un­til fur­ther no­tice as it awaits devel­op­ments. Neil Fair­brother, Stokes’s agent, said: “Ben ex­plained to me the full cir­cum­stances of what hap­pened in Bris­tol and I told him that he has my to­tal sup­port and back­ing. Ben will also make public his full ex­pla­na­tion and ev­i­dence when the time is right.”

Ten­nis PA PA

Jo­hanna Konta’s hopes of qual­i­fy­ing for the WTA Fi­nals are over after she pulled out of the Krem­lin Cup next week with an in­jury to her left foot. It is the sec­ond suc­ces­sive year that the Bri­tish No1 has nar­rowly missed out on reach­ing the WTA Fi­nals.

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