Ospreys: Miserably poor start to the PRO14 and historically rarely able to get a head of steam going in Europe. Four quarter-finals in 14 attempts and no semi-finals is poor for a team with their perennial talent. Encouraging signs last season with a six out of six record in their pool before they slipped in the knock-out stages against Stade Francais.
Northampton: Doughty European campaigners although not last season when they finished bottom of their pool. Generally, though, they tend to find something in Europe and can look back on one title, one runners-up spot, a losing semifinal and six losing quarter-finals. This season they have recovered from a shocking first day defeat to Saracens in the Premiership and go into their opening day game against the same opponents in fine fettle. Saracens: Tournament winners for the last two seasons and for good reason, being the best and most consistent team on the Continent. Have encountered a few injury problems – notably Billy Vunipola and Schalk Brits – and have tried to ease their Lions back into action
but remain formidable. If they nick a win at Franklin’s Gardens first they would surely be in the box seat so expect fireworks.
Clermont: Like Saracens, demonstrate an enviable consistency domestically and in Europe, although in their case that consistency extends to always losing in the final of the European Cup; their 28-17 defeat against Saracens being the third time in five years they have been denied the ultimate prize. Still on a mission and still with squad depth to die for including veteran wing David Strettle, below. Verdict: Big hitting heavyweight pool in which no prisoners will be taken. Durability over six gruelling weeks will be the key along with impregnable home form. For that reason everything points to two of the big beasts of European rugby, Clermont and Saracens, flexing their muscles. Saints have the ability to land a few defiant blows but you fear for Ospreys a little. Predicted standings: 1: Clermont (Q); 2 Saracens (Q); 3 Northampton; 4 Ospreys