European Champions Cup Pool 2 In Focus

European Champions Cup Pool 2 In Focus
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Just as the Rugby World Cup concludes rugby fans are treated to the start of the European Champions Cup. It promises to be an exciting ride with a number of exciting sub-plots rumbling on, including Saracens’ salary cap misdemeanors.

Here Last Word on Rugby focuses in on Champions Cup Pool 2 which comprises Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle and Sale Sharks. Chiefs appear to be the clear favorites but there is a lot of European pedigree in the other three teams, making this one of the most exciting Pools in the competition.

Glasgow Warriors vs Sale Sharks – Saturday 1 pm

This is possibly one of the hardest games to call this weekend. Both sides come into it with indifferent form but a wide range of talent across their squads. It will be tough afternoon up at Scotstoun for any away side but this one is going down to the wire.

Sale Sharks Building Form

Steve Diamond has pulled off a number of big signings this summer. Including the likes of Mark Wilson, Lood De Jager and Akker van der Merwe. However, their initial form showed a side that was a little disjointed.

Despite their indifferent start, big wins against London Irish and Wasps will give confidence to the group. If they can bring all their stars to the fore then Sale will be a real threat this season.

Glasgow Warriors Welcome Back World Cup Stars

Glasgow has had an uncharacteristically slow start to the Pro14 this season. However given they lost 12 players to the World Cup and their star man, Stuart Hogg, departed they do have ample excuses.

Now their stars have returned and had a few weeks to bed in we should expect the old Glasgow Warriors this weekend. They come off two big wins against the Kings and Zebre so they will not be short of confidence.

La Rochelle vs Exeter Chiefs – Saturday 3:15 pm

Later in the day, Exeter makes the trip to the west of France to try and kickstart their campaign with a big away win. They will be met with an indifferent La Rochelle side so far this season. However, be wary of a French side at home.

Is it Exeter’s Year in Champions Cup Pool 2?

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Given the Chiefs’ imperious domestic form of recent years, logic would suggest a big European Champions Cup season is around the corner. However, this has yet to materialise leaving many scratching their heads.

Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter, is confident that this could well be their year to make their mark. He commented on their slow start to the Premiership by saying that “not too much might need to change” in order for them to be successful in Europe.

Baxter’s excitement for European rugby was clear when the said that the competition could be;

“a catalyst to really let ourselves go and let ourselves be the team I know we can be”

La Rochelle’s Danger Men

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Exeter stalwart Ian Whitten pointed out that La Rochelle would be no easy pickings on Saturday when he noted that they had a “good sprinkling of internationals throughout the team”.

Here he was referring to form All Blacks Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Victor Vito. In addition to the Fijian threats of Levani Botia and Kini Murimurivalu who impressed in the World Cup. These individuals will be enough to strike fear into the hearts of any side. This makes La Rochelle a real threat in the Pool Stages.

France at Home Factor

Another factor we must consider before this weekend is the French home advantage. Although it is a heavy cliché no one can deny that French sides are much more threatening at home.

This goes double for La Rochelle as Whitten pointed out at “the whole comes out” to support them. He also expects Exeter to face a big atmosphere in the West of France:

“really noisy crowd, really noisy stadium, a great place to play”

Importance of Backing up Performances

Given the way this Champions Cup Pool 2 is balanced, this weekend’s results will not decide anything. A lose will not be catastrophic for any side. However given there are only six games in the Pool stages; teams cannot afford to have a bad fortnight.

Sam Simmonds highlighted this when he noted that although his side has had big performances against the likes of Montpellier and Leinster they:

“never really backed them up with another good performance”

That will be the key for all these teams in the European Champions Cup Pool stages. The sides that can perform back to back will be the ones that succeed. It simply is not good enough to live off one big win at this level.

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