Heineken Cup 2013-2014: Pool 2 Preview

Glasgow Warriors

This Warriors team is enjoying a rich vein of form at present, sitting atop the Pro12 table after five wins from five games. The balance within the squad is near-perfect, with not only the fine blend of impressive imports and Scotland stars, but also the mixture of experienced pros and hungry youngsters keen to make their mark. Glasgow are excellent defenders, having conceded just two tries in their opening league fixtures, and with a backline boasting the likes of Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg, Niko Matawalu and DTH Van der Merwe, they are capable of doing some real damage in attack. Though Glasgow are laying down a serious marker for title contention thus far, the squad remains unproven at European level. They are in an undoubtedly strong position heading into the opening round of games, but could come unstuck in such a high-profile arena. Duncan Weir’s return has eased the goal-kicking concerns somewhat, but the Warriors can ill-afford to pass up opportunities from the tee.

Last Season: finished bottom of a tough pool, featuring Ulster and Northampton, after winning only one of their games.
Prediction: Glasgow should pick up plenty of points at home, and do well on their travels to finish runners-up to the current champions.

Cardiff Blues

The Blues do possess among their ranks a plethora of Lions stars, including Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton – both of whom are showing signs of returning to form post-tour. Another Lion, Alex Cuthbert, has bagged three tries in his last two Pro12 outings, and Cardiff , who have found tries hard to come by in the opening rounds, will need his finishing ability to gain much from this pool. Elsewhere, though the forward pack is bolstered by the likes of Gethin Jenkins and Josh Navidi, much will depend on the performances of Rhys Patchell at fly-half. The youngster has been impressive in the Pro12 thus far, particularly with the boot, and the Blues will need him to step up a notch to handle the rigours of European competition. Despite the presence of Halfpenny and Cuthbert in the backline, the Blues have struggled to cross the whitewash thus far in their domestic campaign. They have suffered defeat at home to Zebre, and though they have plenty of class in their squad, are guilty of under-performing and over-reliance on the respective boots of Patchell and Halfpenny.

Last season: battled valiantly in a pool dominated by two French giants, but could ultimately only manage one win and a third place finish.
Prediction: the Blues should not upset Toulon or Glasgow, and will fight it out with Exeter Chiefs to avoid the pool’s bottom spot.

Exeter Chiefs

The Chiefs come into the first round of European fixtures following an excellent away victory over Gloucester. They look to have found a real gem in Welsh winger Tom James, who has been a menace for Premiership defences in the early-season exchanges. Added to that, they have a formidable pack – one that steamrolled their hosts at Kingsholm this weekend – that can conform to a tight game-plan if necessary, and could frustrate their more illustrious opponents in this pool. Gareth Steenson, despite his misses against Gloucester, remains one of the country’s top marksmen from the tee, and Rob Baxter is a coach capable of big things at Sandy Park. Though their backline has been impressive in attack thus far in domestic affairs, it does lack the experience of many of their pool counterparts. Where the Blues, Glasgow and Toulon can call upon internationals and Lions aplenty, the Chiefs must rely on youth and guts to see them through. In a big-game environment, that nous can be all-important.

Last season: managed back to back wins against the Scarlets while also giving Leinster an almighty scare in the first round in Ireland, eventually losing out 9-6.
Prediction: their battle with the Blues will be intriguing, but the Premiership side should emerge on top. They could cause any of their opponents trouble at home, but will ultimately fail to finish in the top two.


The current champions have an embarrassment of riches within their squad, where World Cup winners line up shoulder-to-shoulder. Their financial clout has seen them attract a veritable glut of rugby superstars, including Matt Giteau, Jonny Wilkinson, and Bakkies Botha, and the talent Toulon can muster goes virtually unparalleled in the club game. With veteran Wilkinson pulling the strings and taking points from the pivot position, even when not playing well, the French side can still come away with victories. Toulon do appear to have suffered from a lack of unity in their opening French Top 14 games, though. With so many stars, several of whom are new to the money-spinning side, it is unsurprising that too many cooks can sometimes spoil the broth – a broth with so many gourmet ingredients at that. They have also struggled on their travels to an extent, going down at Oyonnax and Castres in their past two away league clashes.

Last season: eased through their pool before defeating the Tigers and Saracens on their way to the final, where they duly dispatched rivals Clermont to be crowned champions for the first time.
Prediction: the champions simply possess too much quality not to finish top of the pool, and mount a serious challenge for the retention of their trophy.

By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

27 thoughts on “Heineken Cup 2013-2014: Pool 2 Preview

  1. Blues narrowly lost away to Glasgow with far from our first choice XV. The Lions are back. Zebre were due a win especially with the excellent signing of Leonard. Gethin is back. If Phil Davies can make the hard decision (that his chosen captain is the Blues 2nd best player in his position, Robocopey should start) then I fancy us to win at home against Exeter and Glasgow. I also fancy us to trouble Toulon – we beat them in the bargain basement cup a few years back and that was in Toulon with the massively overrated Jonny marshalling them well on that day.

    Heart says we narrowly pip Toulon to 1st based on beating them at home and sneaking 1 more away point than them. Head says we come 2nd.

    It’s going to be fascinating – I remember this point well last year. “Big” Aviva matches were hyped up as a forerunner for form in the HC when it actually turned out that although Aviva teams look great when playing each other they’re not so impressive i.e. not streets ahead of Rabo/French teams when they look outside England for 2 minutes. This is why I’m not that impressed with Exeter’s pack or their demolition of Gloucs. Any team coached by Nigel Davies will always have a soft underbelly. He’s renowned for bringing out the lowest form in his players.

    I look forward to Cockerill literally exploding when Leinster rest a 3rd string squad player the weekend before a HC match.

    1. You didn’t see the Chiefs against Leinster in the first round last year then Brighty? or maybe you did and thats why you’re not coming to Sandy Park on Sunday lol.

      1. Ray, the Chiefs will be a tough match. I suspect we (Blues) will lose this weekend. I expect us to take the return game mind but can’t be confidently sure about any of the results really.

        I haven’t seen Tom James much this year – he tailed off a bit on his last year at the Blues so it’s good to hear he is getting back to his old self again. Hard to believe he came to rugby very late, such a natural talent. Bit of a headcase though.

        1. Chiefs form has not been good so far this season, one good performance, two indifferent and two frankly awful so difficult to call. Tom James seems to be settling in ok, certainly popular with the home crowd. Why do you say he was a headcase? Baxter puts great store on new recruits ‘fitting in’ he has a deliberate policy of ‘no stars’, no prima donners, no mavericks and he’s been very loyal to the players who were with him in the championship. Don’t think a headcase will last long!

          1. Ray, he’s fallen out with the Wales management twice and he’s been known to have the odd pop on and off the pitch when things don’t go his way. Just seems a bit headstrong and/or badly advised at times.

            1. I should add that I was gutted when we sold him. My kind of player – hard, fast and capable of doing things that light up a match. Never forget his HC debut at home against Stade Francais. He made them look massively ordinary that night. One of our best HC nights.

            2. I’ll watch him with interest. Rob Baxter seems to have a good record picking up ‘cast offs’ from other leagues’ but he doesnt recruit the stars, partly for cost reasons Exeter has been less well funded than most but mainly because of his no stars policy. best example being Steenson who was told he’d never make it professionaly by Ulster.

        2. I’ve just seen the Exeter team sheet for Sunday. Tom James and Sam Hill both out with minor injuries, Cowan-Dickie and Nowel still not back from injury. I think a weakened team so maybe you do have a chance, slight perhaps but a definite chance!

    2. against a not full strength Glasgow side in horrific conditions. What was the excuse against Zebre?

      Glasgow to win at least 4 games, and give Toulon a scare at Scotstoun.

      1. Blues also far from full strength snd both teams in the same conditions. Glasgow had home advantage and couldn’t put to bed an out of sorts Blues team. We will find out soon enough anyway.

    3. You’re brilliantly hilarious… massively overrated Jonny???!!!! If he’s overrated yet hands down the best 10 in the WORLD then world rugby is on it’s ar*e !!

      My head says
      You lost to Zebre at home who are for one of the first times EVER not at the bottom due to that tasty win and likely only win of the season!
      Beat Connacht and Edinburgh who are already have been thrust into the bottom

      My heart says
      Save on transportation costs and the players should just stay in bed re. Toulon

      The only men to challenge Toulon is Glasgow and their gritty determination and Scot toughness I have no doubt in my mind that they’ll do it!

      Good Luck Blues.. I’m coming from Manchester to watch but I’m not expecting a good game, more tries galore from Toulon!

      1. You’ve proved my point for me about him being overrated. He has never been, even at the peak of his powers, the best ten in the world. Great kicker. Reliable distributor. Ferocious defender. But not the best all round ten in the world. I personally find it a shame the way he redefined being a ten as almost an extra defensive flanker. I prefer my tens as fleet of foot and mind rather than amazing at hitting rucks and defending the ten channel.

        1. Interesting one – and something Brighty knows no Englishman will ever agree with him on!

          Whilst I agree to an extent, in that Jonny does play that was now, as the peak of his powers he absolutely was an all round 10. I’m not sure who you think was better than him between 200-2003 Brighty?

          Whatever you say, I hope you understand I will never admit that Jonny is not he greatest. That’s not my decision, it is just that as an English rugby fan I have no choice but to love him unconditionally.

          1. Now that’s a viewpoint I can understand Jacob. I feel the same way whenever anyone tries to tell me that Shane wasn’t the best wing in world rugby ever.

            My initial jibe at Jonny was in response to this tiresome repetition of “Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon” or at least always mentioning his name as if this somehow makes Toulon a massive force simply because he plays for them. I expect it from the newspapers as they always have to mention Jonny whenever they can, to sell papers, but rugby fans know that Toulon are about much more than Jonny and that he’s not the force he was. I would rate him as a great player but not the best 10 in the world.

            Who was better than him when he won the WC? Stephen Jones for one, but Stephen didn’t play behind an amazing pack. Jonny always looked ordinary for Newcastle but Stephen shone for the lightweight Scarlets. It was a travesty the way Woodward couldn’t bring himself to drop Jonny during that 05 Lions tour – he knew Stephen was the better 10 but could not take the hard decision that was needed. Of course, I know that 05 wasn’t prime Jonny.

            1. I will never agree with you that Jones was better than Jonny in 2003. I might understand your viewpoint in 2005, but that the most you are getting out of me! But to be fair to Woodward, I heard a lot of “they are the best players and they’ll come good on the big occasions” re: Phillips/Lydiate for this summers Lions tour, so is Woodward not allowed the same view in 2005? Just a thought.

              And on Wilko/Toulon – most of the Toulon players appear to say the same thing. Nick Kennedy was saying it last night before the Sale game on Sky. Basically along the lines of, even with all the great players down there everyone looks at Jonny when things get tough. He is our leader etc. For me, he is still a class act. And all round 10? No. But still class.

            2. He is also the captain, so it’s just like saying “Sam Warburton’s Lions” or “Chris Robshaw’s England”. Both of which were/are common phrases in TV punditry. If 1/2p kicks a goal that wins a world cup for you then I’m sure he will become the greatest player ever to lace up a pair of boots in the Brighty household, so you can hardly blame us for our affection.

              Nick Kennedy is of the opinion that Jonny is the driving force behind Toulon’s success. It is him being so hard working, dedicated, humble and professional that galvanises this collection of superstars. I can’t ever recall a team of “galacticos” largely towards the ends of their playing careers playing with the intensity of Toulon. If a ex-Toulon player attributes a lot of that to Jonny’s influence then I’m not going to argue!

              He’s not been anywhere near the best 10 in the world for almost a decade, but his influence does go beyond what he does on the pitch (shame Henson never managed to catch that lesson whilst he was down there).

        2. Brighty, I do disagree with you on Jonny Wilkinson, even though I accept that he wasn’t as “fleet of foot” as Barry John or Danny Cipriani.

          Yes, I did include the two of them, partly out of mischeive, and partly to make a clear point.

          Jonny Wilkinson was not a natural runner like these two (or, of the top of my head; Dan Carter, Steven Larkham, Mark Ella, Jonathan Davies, Phil Bennett, John Rutherford, Tony Ward, Stuart Barnes, James Hook, Charlie Hodgson, Paul Turner and plenty more). BUT, neither was he stuck in the (more) one dimensional game of the likes of Rob Andrew, Naas Botha, Neil Jenkins, Grant Fox etc.

          He actually had a very good running game, it just didn’t come as naturally to him as some others. His main problem was the excellence of his kicking, defensive and passing game, gave the impression that he couldn’t run the ball.

          In the 2 to 3 years running up to the 2003 World Cup, he was definitely the best 10 in the world. Maybe not quite at the 2003 World Cup, despite the headlines, but certainly in the run up to it.

          Who would you say was better during this period?

          BTW – I was always a big fan of Paul Turner.

    4. Just a couple of results from last year for you:
      Dec 8, 2012 Scarlets 16 – 22 Exeter Chiefs
      Dec 15, 2012 Exeter Chiefs 30 – 20 Scarlets

      Scarlets ended the season on the same points as you in the RaboDirect last season and they say the table doesn’t lie.

      We may not be playing at out best yet this season (but you don’t want to be peeking in September) but I still think we can come second in the group and should be favourites to do so.

      1. Good point. If we could also cancel the six nations, given that Wales won it this year and last year so it’s a foregone conclusion as the table doesn’t lie and we topped it twice, then it will save me a fortune.

        1. Surprised you put so much faith in rankings Brighty but maybe there is merit in the idea drop the 6 nations as you say and just play home and away with the 5 top teams in the world rankings.

            1. I’m sure you would Brighty but sadly for you there are still things in this world that money just can’t buy – not even for Welsh Gold!

    1. He’s clearly a troll, probably smarting from some six nations humbling that Wales handed out to his team at some point during their last three championship titles…..

      1. That’s ripe after making a comment like that Brighty! I think you forgot the Lol or ;-). I can’t wait for England to beat Wales when Adam Jones retires, or when the scrum is enforced properly………….! ;-)

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