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European Rugby Champions Cup Preview

by Neil Jennings

The Heineken Cup has undergone a transformation and its new look will be unveiled this weekend as the 2014 – 15 European Rugby Champions Cup kicks off. As the first season of this annual rugby union club competition, the European Rugby Champions Cup will start the 20th season of professional European rugby with a bang.  

The first round of the group stage will start on 17th October and will see 20 teams from the three major European domestic leagues; Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and Pro 12, go head to head. 

All 20 teams that qualified for the European Rugby Champions Cup are based in the following six nations countries. 

England - Saracens, Northampton Saints, Leicester Tigers, Harlequins, Bath, Sale Sharks, Wasps
France - Toulon, Montpellier, Clermont Auvergne, Racing Metro, Toulouse, Castres Olympique
Ireland - Leinster, Munster, Ulster
Italy -  Benetton Treviso
Scotland - Glasgow Warriors
Wales - Ospreys, Scarlets  

These teams will compete across five pools in the group stages, for one of eight quarterfinal places made up of the five pool winners and the three top-ranked pool runners-up.
Pool 1 - Saracens, Munster, Clermont Auvergne and Sale
Pool 2 - Leinster, Castres Olympique, Harlequins and Wasps
Pool 3 - Toulon, Leicester, Ulster and Scarlets
Pool 4 - Glasgow, Montpellier, Bath and Toulouse
Pool 5 - Northampton, Racing Metro, Ospreys and BenettonTreviso

The group stage will be complete by January 2015 and the quarter final will take place in April 2015 where the teams will be taking to the pitch to battle it out for a place in the semifinals later in April 2015. The two semifinal winners will then take on the ultimate challenge of securing the title of European Champion in the May 2015 final, which will take place at Twickenham Stadium, the home of the Rugby Union and world’s largest stadium solely dedicated to the sport.

So who are the current favourites that are going to inject some real excitement into the competition?  It’s looking like Clermont Auvergne, Leinster, Saracens, Northampton and Toulon are the top five front-runners.

Clermont Auvergne  is a French rugby union team, which currently competes in the Top 14 and has reached the French Championship final 11 times, winning in 2010. Last year Clermont Auvergne made it to the final in the Heineken Cup but just missed out on the top spot to Toulon.

Leinster is an Irish professional provincial rugby team and currently plays in the Pro 12. In the 2013-14 season, Leinster became the first ever team to defend its Pro 12 title, securing its 7th major title in 7 years.  

Saracens were founded 138 years ago and were runners-up in both the 2013-14 Aviva Premiership and last year’s Heineken Cup. The Saracens just missed out on the Aviva Premiership crown last year to Northampton.

Northampton Saints were formed in 1880 and won their first Heineken Cup in the 1999-2000 season and were runners-up in the 2010-11 competition. They were also runners-up in last year’s LV=Cup.

Toulon currently plays in the Top 14 competition in France.  Toulon has four championship wins under its belt and has been crowned the winner for the past two years of the Heineken Cup.

So who do you think will be crowned the winner of the first ever European Rugby Champions Cup?  Vote here on our Facebook page.