On to Pool 2, the group dubbed by London Irish coach Toby Booth as the “group of entertainment”. No pressure…
Coach: Gareth Baber, Justin Burnell
Ground: Arms Park
Strengths: A very strong squad, with quality right across the board, Cardiff should be favourites to win this pool. Leigh Halfpenny should have an interesting battle with Ben Blair for the 15 shirt, whilst a back row of Michael Paterson, Sam Warburton and Xavier Rush is excellently balanced. Where Gavin Henson slots in will be interesting.
Weaknesses: Teams may fancy trying to get an edge on the tighthead side of the scrum against Filise, but there are few to worry about.
One to Watch: Lloyd Williams
After impressing on many occasions coming off the bench for Wales in the Rugby World Cup, Williams should find himself ahead of Richie Rees for selection at scrum-half for the Blues. With great hands and distribution, he should get the Blues backline going.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Cardiff lost the first ever Heineken Cup final to Toulouse back in 1996 at Arms Park. Their best finishes since then have been reaching the Semi-Finals in 1997 and 2009.
Prediction: With that much talent in their squad, Cardiff are favourites to win this group. 1st
Coach: Michael Bradley
Ground: Murrayfield Stadium
Strengths: Having one Dutch winger is rare enough, but Edinburgh have two in the Visser brothers, Tim and Sep. That kind of pace, along with Simon Webster and Lee Jones, will cause problems if Edinburgh can get the ball wide, placing responsibility on Nick de Luca and Phil Godman in midfield. Allan Jacobsen, Ross Ford and Geoff Cross form a pretty formidable front row as well.
Weaknesses: A lack of quality in general will hinder Edinburgh’s progress from this group, with few quality players in the second and back rows, despite Talei’s experience.
One to Watch: Harry Leonard
The young fly-half was Man of the Match last weekend against Treviso, and the 19 year old is starting to make waves for Edinburgh and will benefit massively from the learning curve of a tough Heineken Cup group.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Edinburgh have only progressed from the group stages once, when they reached the quarter-finals in 2004.
Prediction: Not quite matching up to the quality of the other sides in Pool 2, they will struggle. 4th
Coach: Toby Booth
Ground: Madejski Stadium
Strengths: Going well in the Aviva Premiership this season, sitting 3rd after 8 Rounds, Irish have struggled in the scrum and their lineout has been uncharacteristically off-colour. However they have scored plenty of tries, with fly-half Dan Bowden pulling the strings to great effect at number 10, whilst youngsters Jonathan Joseph, Alex Gray, Jamie Gibson and Tom Homer have all shone. An inspiring draw against Leicester will see them going into the tournament in high spirits.
Weaknesses: The way they have struggled upfront does not bode well for when they face the packs of Cardiff and Racing Métro, but if Alex Corbisiero and Faan Rautenbach can stay fit then they should be ok. Losing Joseph for three months is a blow as well, whilst Delon Armitage will miss the first two rounds due to yet another ban.
One to Watch: Tom Homer
The top points scorer in the Aviva Premiership so far this season, Homer’s boot is deadly, and will kill off the opposition if they present him with too many opportunities. With Armitage away, it will be his responsibility to step up.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Semi-finalists in 2008.
Prediction: Irish have enough potential to qualify from this group as the runners-up, it’s just a question of whether they can pick up enough points along the way. Their trip to Racing Métro in December will be crucial. 2nd
Racing Métro 92
Coach: Pierre Berbizier
Ground: Stade Olympique Yves-Du-Manoir
Strengths: An all-star backline featuring the likes of Frans Steyn, Juan Martín Hernández, Sireli Bobo and Mirco Bergamasco has the required X Factor to give defences nightmares. In the pack, Santiago Dellapè and captain Lionel Nallet form a formidable second row partnership to rule the skies, whilst there is still the famous visage of Sébastian Chabal slotting in at number 8.
Weaknesses: Few noteworthy weak areas, and given their strength in depth they should be able to rotate without too much bother, though they lack a little bit of star quality at 6 and 7.
One to Watch: Nicolas Durand
The pétit general pulling the strings, Durand spent 6 years at Perpignan before joining Racing last season. A scrum-half with great speed and accurate boot, he is the main man to get this powerful French engine up and running.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: 2010-2011 was Racing’s first appearance in the competition, with the side finishing third.
Prediction: A straight shootout between Racing and London Irish for second place. A hard call, every bonus point will count. 3rd.