The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

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

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