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.
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.
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