GUIDE TO THE EURO­PEAN CUP POOLS

The Observer - Sport - - RUGBY UNION -

HARLEQUINS LA ROCHELLE UL­STER WASPS

Ul­ster’s win­ning start to the sea­son came to an un­ex­pected halt at Ze­bre last week­end but they look equipped to make more of an im­pact than last sea­son when they lost their last three pool matches. La Rochelle, who fin­ished first in the Top 14 ta­ble in 2016-17, have been in ram­pant form at home, putting 50 points on both Cler­mont Au­vergne and Oy­on­nax. Wasps have ad­vanced to the knock­out stage for the last two years but they have started the Premier­ship sea­son poorly while Harlequins con­tinue to strug­gle to back up re­sults. Ta­ble top­pers Wasps

CLER­MONT AUV NORTHAMP­TON OSPREYS SARA­CENS

Sara­cens are look­ing to em­u­late Toulon’s feat from 2013-15 of win­ning the tro­phy three years in a row but they are grouped with the last team to de­feat them in the tour­na­ment, Cler­mont Au­vergne, and Northamp­ton, who have ral­lied af­ter be­ing well beaten by Sara­cens on the open­ing day of the Premier­ship sea­son at Twick­en­ham. Cler­mont are in the bot­tom half of the Top 14, with­out a win away from home, while Ospreys are joint bot­tom of their Pro14 con­fer­ence. Ta­ble top­pers Sara­cens

EX­ETER GLAS­GOW LE­IN­STER MONT­PEL­LIER

The most in­trigu­ing of the groups pits the Premier­ship cham­pi­ons against Mont­pel­lier, who led the Top 14 go­ing into this week­end; Glas­gow, who headed their Pro14 con­fer­ence; and Le­in­ster, who are two points be­hind Scar­lets in their con­fer­ence and are the only one of the four with Euro­pean pedi­gree, hav­ing won the tour­na­ment three times. Ex­eter have tended to start their Euro­pean cam­paigns slowly but, in a pool where away vic­to­ries will be pre­cious, they have to start in step at home to Glas­gow. Ta­ble top­pers Le­in­ster

CASTRES LE­ICES­TER MUNSTER RAC­ING 92

Le­ices­ter were pooled with Rac­ing 92 and Munster last sea­son as they lost all three away matches while scor­ing 16 points and con­ced­ing 114. Castres may of­fer some relief: in 13 Euro­pean Cup cam­paigns they have only once reached the knock­out stage and not since 2005 have they recorded more vic­to­ries than de­feats. Rac­ing have de­clined from the side that reached the fi­nal in 2016 and won the Top 14. Munster, beaten by Sara­cens in last sea­son’s semi-fi­nals, are grow­ing in ex­pe­ri­ence. Ta­ble top­pers Munster

BATH SCAR­LETS TOULON TRE­VISO

The pres­ence of an Ital­ian side in­vari­ably means a knock­out place for the team that fin­ishes sec­ond in the group but Tre­viso have won at Ed­in­burgh and at home to Ospreys this sea­son, so Bath can­not as­sume they will bank five points next Satur­day. Toulon are not the force they were but still rarely lose at the Stade Félix Mayol, while Bath re­main fickle, los­ing at home to New­cas­tle one week and win­ning at Wasps the next. Scar­lets, who won the Pro12 last sea­son, play with flair and have learned how to win away. Ta­ble top­pers Scar­lets

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