The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

Munster: Look in de­cent nick in the PRO14 and Thomond Park is still a con­sid­er­able ci­tadel, but they have the trick­i­est of starts away to Castres who are al­ways for­mi­da­ble at Stade Pierre Antoine. If the Mun­ster­men can man­u­fac­ture a vic­tory in the south of France they will be on their way, a de­feat, though, will get Ir­ish nerves jan­gling. Castres: De­li­ciously un­known qual­ity. Mer­cu­rial by any stan­dards but with the likes of Alex Telou and Rory Kock­ott they are ca­pa­ble of big up­set wins against any­body and to an ex­tent dodg­ing the Castres bul­let could be key in this pool. Dif­fi­cult to make a case for them pro­gress­ing but will dam­age some­body else’s am­bi­tions. Rac­ing 92: Boast a pow­er­ful squad by any stan­dards. Los­ing fi­nal­ists in 2016 but un­der­per­formed badly in Europe last sea­son, and owner Jackie Loren­zetti will be de­mand­ing they rec­tify that. Dan Carter, Juan Imhoff and Leone Nakarawa want to be play­ing in the knock­out stages as does Don­nacha Ryan, their sum­mer sign­ing from Munster who will bring some wel­come Euro­pean nous.

Le­ices­ter: Have the fire­power in the backs to test the best de­fences in Europe. The prospect of Telusa Veainu, Matt Toomua, be­low, Ge­orge Ford and Jonny May all click­ing in uni­son is one to pon­der. Tigers, ex­cept for that trounc­ing by Glas­gow last sea­son, also re­main in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to beat at Welford Road – but have they got the pack to boss big Euro­pean games? Ver­dict: A real pot pourri of a pool with the pres­ence off two French sides adding to its un­pre­dictabil­ity. I’m tak­ing Tigers to bare their teeth again and fin­ish top with Castres fin­ish­ing bot­tom but play­ing a de­ci­sive role in turn­ing over a cou­ple of teams. That leaves Rac­ing and Munster grap­pling for a pos­si­ble best run­ners-up spot. Rac­ing by a whisker. Pre­dicted stand­ings: 1 Le­ices­ter (Q); 2 Rac­ing 92 (Q); 3 Munster; 4 Castres

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