Our penultimate preview is on Pool 5, featuring Benetton Treviso, Biarritz, the Ospreys and English champions Saracens.
Coach: Franco Smith
Ground: Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Strengths: With two points machines at fly-half in Kris Burton and Willem de Waal, Treviso have the ability to edge out tight games. There is also plenty of talent in the pack, with the Italian core of Leonardo Ghiraldini, Corne Van Zyl, Alessandro Zanni and Paul Derbyshire.
Weaknesses: The same as Aironi, Treviso just don’t have the same amount of fire power or class as the other sides in the tournament. For this reason, they will find it rough, though they can take inspiration from Aironi’s victory over Biarritz last season.
One to Watch: Luke McLean
The Kiwi-born full back has fallen out of favour with the national side, but is a great attacking runner and handy with the boot.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Treviso’s highest finish came when they finished second in their group back in 1996.
Prediction: Another tough group for the Italian side. 4th
Coach: Patrice Laqisquet
Ground: Parc des Sports Aguiléra
Strengths: With a settled squad that he been together now for a few years, Biarritz will need to work hard this year to qualify from a group including the Ospreys and Saracens. They have plenty of speedsters in Iain Balshaw, Takudzwa Ngwenya and England Sevens star Dan Caprice, whilst upfront Imanol Harinordoquy, Jérôme Thion, Raphaël Lakafia and Fabien Barcella are just some of the star names. Conducting the orchestra as always will be the class of Dimitri Yachvili.
Weaknesses: Hard to pick. Biarritz have a 55% loss record away from home, so will target a big win against either the Ospreys or Saracens (in Cape Town) to progress.
One to Watch: Raphaël Lakafia
With a breakthrough season last year for Biarritz, Lakafia was selected for the World Cup but only featured against Japan and Tonga, playing no part in the knock out stages. A great runner with the ball in hand, this could be the season where he breaks through internationally, on the back of some solid performances in the Heineken Cup.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Losing finalists in 2010 and 2006.
Prediction: Tough to decide between Biarritz, Ospreys and Saracens for who will finish in the top two. Biarritz will need that big away win. 2nd
Coach: Scott Johnson
Ground: Liberty Stadium
Strengths: It was certainly a summer of change for the Ospreys, and the outgoing list of players might have left supporters worrying; Craig Mitchell, James Hook, Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips, Marty Holah and Jerry Collins all departed. With the change of focus, their is plenty of talent coming through the ranks in Justin Tipuric, Matthew Morgan and Tom Prydie, whilst the Ospreys have recruited wisely bringing in Kahn Fotuali’i and George Stowers.
Weaknesses: Given the amount of change in playing personnel, this might be a season too soon for the Ospreys to compete seriously in the knock out stages. However, they do have enough talent to get out of their pool, if they can keep players like Fotuali’i fit.
One to Watch: Chauncey O’Toole
The big Canadian flanker is another new arrival this season, and arrives after putting in a series of impressive performances at the Rugby World Cup.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: The Ospreys reached three successive quarter-finals in 2008, 2009 and 2010, but have gone no further.
Prediction: With Saracens likely to win the group, the Ospreys should battle it out with Biarritz, who beat them by a single point in their quarter-final back in 2009. If they can win down in the Pays Basque, then they could go through. 3rd.
Coach: Mark McCall
Ground: Vicarage Road
Strengths: Following domestic success last season, Saracens know that to become a great side you have to win in Europe. The emergence of Owen Farrell coupled with the astute signings of Charlie Hodgson and John Smit means that Saracens are developing nicely. The wins away at Gloucester and Leicester show that they can pull out results in the hardest of away venues.
Weaknesses: The lesson that the strongest squad means more chance of success hasn’t been ignored by Saracens, meaning that when going through the side there few weaknesses. There is though a slight lack of depth at scrum-half past Neil de Kock now that Richard Wigglesworth has been ruled out for the season.
One to Watch: Jacques Burger
The Namibia captain at the Rugby World Cup, Burger’s all-action style has won plenty of plaudits and rightly so. His defence is eye-catching to say the least.
Heineken Cup Pedigree: Semi-Finals in 2008, they finished bottom of the Heineken group last year.
Prediction: 12 months on, Saracens have the squad and the form going into the competition to seriously compete. Whether they have the nous to overcome the tension of the knock out stages remains to be seen. 1st.