Despite a very poor start to their PRO12 campaign, Edinburgh do have plenty of quality among their squad, with many of the side that reached the Heineken Cup semi-final two years ago still involved at Murrayfield. Captain Greig Laidlaw has returned from injury, his controlling influence at scrum-half will be desperately required. With Tim Visser on the wing, tries are always a possibility, but with Edinburgh adopting a more conservative game-plan, it remains to be seen how much ball the prolific Scotland international will receive. However, new Head Coach Alan Solomons had barely a few weeks with his charges before their first game of the domestic league. Not only this, but he has signed a plethora of imports, some of whom he has worked with before at the Kings franchise, and the squad has yet to gel, or establish a real pecking order. There is precious little cover in the crucial pivot position at fly-half, and although Roddy Grant scores ten out of ten for effort, he is limited at openside flanker.
Last Season: A year to forget on all counts for the capital side, failing to register a single win in the European competition, and suffering some humiliating defeats at the hands of Saracens and Munster.
Prediction:It will take time for Edinburgh’s new recruits and entrenched squad members to conform to Solomons’ tighter game-plan, and find some much-needed form. They do have potential, but it won’t be enough to see them escape bottom position in this pool.
Under coach Rob Penney, Munster have played a more expansive brand of rugby, in contrast to the hard-nosed, forward-orientated style of old. Back rows CJ Stander and James Coughlan are thriving this season, and the Irish side come into the tournament off the back of a morale-boosting victory over rivals Leinster, and an excellent all-round start to their Pro12 season. The pack is extremely powerful in the loose, with Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony in the mix, and Ian Keatley is hitting fine form at fly-half. However, the scrum has been problematic at times for Munster this season, despite their excellent record of results. In addition, with the generation of household Irish names showing signs of age, questions may be raised over this younger side’s nous when the big occasions come calling. This is Munster, though, and Penney’s recruits have shown they can handle the pressure as recently as last week’s derby fixture.
Last Season: Finished runners-up to Saracens in their pool, but made it to the quarter finals, knocking out Harlequins. Lost narrowly to Clermont in the semi finals.
Prediction: Will fight it out with Perpignan for top spot in the group, but should prevail against the French side.
Perpignan have enjoyed a good start to the Top 14, and in keeping with many of their league counterparts, boast a reasonably illustrious squad. James Hook remains a brilliant playmaker at this level, alongside Camille Lopez. Hook and co will likely have the luxury of playing behind a pack in the ascendancy, with the likes of Guihelm Guirado, Ally Strokosch and Luke Charteris bolstering the Perpignan ranks up front. True to French form, Perpignan can struggle on their travels, and their respective trips to the formidable venues of Thomond Park and Kingsholm will be particularly interesting. Though the likes of Hook can be game-breakers, they can also be mercurial, and inconsistency could prove troublesome.
Last season: Topped their Amlin Challenge Cup pool, and turned in an impressive performance at home to beat Toulouse in the quarter finals. Lost to Stade Francais at the semi final stage.
Prediction: Their wobbles on the road should cost them top spot.
In Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees, Gloucester have two of English rugby’s finest young talents in their backline, alongside the ever-masterful James Simpson-Daniel. There is nous and calibre aplenty at scrum-half with All Black Jimmy Cowan in the number nine jersey, deputised by fiery Welshman Tavis Knoyle. The back row, too, is not short on talent, with England caps Matt Kvesic and Ben Morgan in the mix alongside barnstorming Fijian Akapusi Qera and Tongan powerhouse Sione Kalamafoni. Their home ground at Kingsholm, in addition, is (or perhaps that should read was?) a daunting prospect for any visiting team. The Premiership side have won just two of their opening five games, albeit one of those an impressive home display against much-fancied Northampton Saints. The forward pack was taken apart rather worryingly by Exeter Chiefs last weekend, and this must remain an area of concern for Nigel Davies.
Last Season: Topped their Amlin Challenge Cup pool, but were knocked out by Biarritz in the quarter finals.
Prediction: On their day, they will be a difficult proposition for either of the pool favourites, particularly at Kingsholm. However, it won’t be enough to see them climb into a potential qualification spot.
By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images