Saracens look the most likely English winner of this season’s Heineken Cup but Munster warrant some interest at 20/1 to win the premier competition in European rugby union. The tournament brings together the best teams from England, France the Celtic nations and Italy. There is talk of an Anglo-French breakaway but a full schedule of matches will be played and Leicester and Toulon should again figure in the later rounds of this season’s renewal.
The Heineken Cup is the Champions League of rugby union in Europe. The tournament begins with pool matches followed by elimination rounds that culminate in a final that will be held in Cardiff this season. Home advantage can be key to determining the outcome in the final so the Welsh sides will be keen to progress but Munster would be hard to beat if qualifying for the Heineken Cup finale.
Saracens are an ambitious club, located in the suburbs of London which is significant attraction for the best players in the world. They tried to sign Sam Tomkins from Wigan in the rugby league Super league but he decided not to switch codes and moved to New Zealand Warriors in the NRL instead. Saracens reached the semi-finals last year and the side has been strengthened since then so look leading contenders to win the trophy for the first time in the history of the club.
The Munster pack will be powerful as ever and the side look more comfortable with under a coach appointed at the start of last season. They have won the Heineken Cup on two occasions but the last time was five years ago. Since then their compatriots Leinster have won three Heineken Cups but it could be their time to win the competition for Ireland. Munster’s pool draw looks relatively easy as they rarely lose at home and their three away matches all look winnable.
Rugby union is one sport that lends itself to handicap netting. Many matches in England and France can have big favourites which don’t generate much betting interest on the outcome. By giving the underdog a head start bookmakers create an evenly matched two way market with half point handicaps eliminating the tie.
Leicester Tigers are the most successful English side in the Aviva Premiership and Heineken Cup. They suffer more than most from absentees during the Rugby World Cup but there is no tournament this year so the side will be available to play their full quota of internationals, at least until the autumn internationals and Six Nations next year. Leicester would be one of the sides involved in ant separate competiiton involving the best sides from England and France.
The side have built up an excellent record at home but while some key players were at the World Cup in 2011 they did not win a league match at home before Christmas that season. Despite missing so many top players Leicester were still good enough to stay in contention early in the season and eventually finished second in the regular season.
Leicester have been champions in England ten times since the introduction of a league format in 1987. That is four times more than the next most successful sides, Wasps and Bath. Leicester have also appeared in ten successive Premiership finals up to and including in 2013. They have never finished below sixth place and are one of just four teams not to have been relegated from the top division.
Leicester are the only English side to have qualified for every Heineken Cup in which they have been eligible to play. They are the most successful English side in Europe, having won the Heineken Cup in 2001 and 2002 and lost in the final three times between 1997 and 2009. The side’s success has counted against them when international call-ups have weakened their strength.
In the Aviva Premiership last season Leicester finished second behind Saracens in the regular season. Only that side conceded fewer points but Leicester were outscored by two other sides during the league programme. However, they built on that successful campaign by beating Northampton in the play-off final to record that tenth league win. The side looks no weaker for the upcoming season so Leicester look worthy favourites to win the title again.
Toulon have won the league in France three times but took their form to a new level last season. They beat Clermont Auvergne in the final of the Heineken Cup and lost the Top 14 final to Castres. However, the last year in which Toulon were champions in France was 1992 and they have been runners up in the last two years.
Toulon are still the bookmaker’s favourites to win the Top 14 despite a moderate start to the season. They have played three matches to date and have drawn, won and lost once over that spell. However, no side has won all of their first three matches and Toulon’s point’s difference is only inferior to the current league leaders, Stade Francais.
Toulon’s roster for the current season has 38 players, 27 of which have been capped at full international level. The captain, Jos van Niekerk, is a regular for South Africa but Toulon’s most well known player is Jonny Wilkinson. Ten years on from winning the World Cup with England Wilkinson is still a key member of the team and his kicking was a massive factor in the side’s success in domestic and European rugby last season.
Only Clermont Auvergne are shorter than Leicester and Toulon in betting for the Heineken Cup. You can bet at odds of 2/1 that either of these sides win the competition this season. London Wasps were the last English side to win the cup, in 2007, while Northampton were beaten finalists in 2011.
Leinster have won the Heineken Cup three times in the last five years and can be backed at 8/1 to add to that tally. Leicester are the only side to have lost twice in the final since the start of the new millennium. Pending the draw the English side could well make the final again but may struggle to beat potential opponents Toulon, looking to become the first French side to win the trophy two years in succession.