It has now come to that time of year again where we all start to prepare for battle with our European neighbours. Yes it is the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup season! For me this is a great time of year as these tournaments get our national juices flowing in preparation for the 6 nations in February, and give the opportunities for players to put themselves into the frame for national selection.
This season will inevitably raise the question of can anyone beat Toulon? Will people start taking the Challenge cup seriously? Will any English teams get to the sharp end of the tournaments?
The teams in this seasons tournament are the French teams; Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Racing Metro 92, Stade Français, Oyonnax, Toulouse and Bordeaux-Begle. Irish teams; Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster. The English clubs; Bath, Wasps, Saracens, Northampton, Exeter and Leicester. Scottish and Welsh sides; Glasgow, Scarlets and Ospreys and finally the Italian team Benetton Treviso.
The main challengers are likely to be two times consecutive champions Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Saracens and Leinster. Although there is particular group of death containing Bath, Leinster, Toulon and Wasps who between them have won the tournament a staggering 9 times, while the combined total for the rest of the participants is 8. It makes the world cup group of death look like a walk in the park! Either way after the success and drama of last season this is looking to deliver on its promise.
The smaller brother of the Champions Cup now comes with one big incentive! The winner will receive entry into the Champions Cup in the next season. This should keep the tournament interesting throughout as it has often been seen as the chance to blood youngsters and has tended to peter out towards the end of the season.
With the reduction in number of teams in the Champions Cup there are some bigger names in this years tournament which should add some serious spice, so keep your eyes peeled for this.