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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Montpellier and Munster can challenge established European order

Big guns Leinster and Saracens look too short in tricky betting heat

Aaron Cruden of Montpellier
1 of 1

Starts Friday

In the last eight seasons just three clubs have been crowned European champions - Leinster, Saracens and Toulon, and with the French side struggling towards the bottom of the Top 14, it's no surprise the betting for this season's campaign is dominated by the Pro14 and Premiership champions.

Holders Leinster swept all before them last year, comfortably seeing off England's top two Exeter and Sarries on their way to a fourth Champions Cup, and they are 9-4 favourites, just ahead of 10-3 Saracens, and then there's a big jump in price to the chasing pack.

Of the two big guns Sarries may be the safer bet as they have a more straightforward looking pool whereas Leinster face tricky clashes with former winners Toulouse and Wasps as well as Bath. But both are priced pretty short in a tournament that can have so many twists and turns. 

Best bet
Montpellier 8-1

Every year punters are faced with the tricky task of balancing four crucial factors when it comes to this tournament - current form, European pedigree, pool draw and motivation.

No team outside the top two ticks all those boxes, and what Montpellier lack is a history of success in Europe. They have reached the quarter-finals just once, and have gone out at the pool stage in the last two years.

Leinster v Wasps preview

Champions Cup pools verdicts

Challenge Cup tournament preview

But there's no doubting the depth of their squad, including powerhouse Fijiian winger Nemani Nadolo and former All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden, they won the Challenge Cup in 2016 and they have probably the easiest pool draw of all.

Three-time winners Toulon join them in Pool Five but they lie close to the bottom of the Top 14 with just two wins from seven, and their most recent defeat was a 29-17 reverse at Montpellier.

The pool line-up is completed by Newcastle and Edinburgh, both making their first appearance in the top tier for five seasons, and Montpellier look good for some big wins to gain a high quarter-final seeding.

Next best
Munster 14-1

The toughest-looking sections in this year's draw are Pool Four, where you could make a case for any one of Racing, Scarlets, Leicester and Ulster coming out on top, and Pool Two, where French champions Castres, Munster and Exeter are housed together with Gloucester.

Exeter are odds-on to come out on top but while they are an outstanding unit and bang in form, they have yet to make headway in Europe. 

There are no such doubts about Munster, who have reached more semi-finals than any other team and have the finest home record of all. The negatives about them are current form, particularly away from home, injuries to scrum-halves Conor Murray and Alby Mathewson for at least the opening rounds, and an unsettled backline marshalled by summer signing Joey Carbery at fly-half. 

But they have the experience to grow into the competition and their outstanding home record - they have lost just four of 62 pool matches in this tournament and have scored 22 tries in their three Pro14 wins this season - means they can target bonus-point wins against their pool rivals, none of whom have great records on the road.

Others to note

Racing 92, beaten finalists last season, are favourites to top tricky Pool Four, but it looks likely to be a desperately close race and it would be no surprise if all four teams end up with three wins and three defeats.

Toulouse, Leicester and Wasps are all former winners but don't look up to the mark and are in tough sections. Scarlets could be of interest at 20-1 as they aim to better last year's semi-final appearance in coach Wayne Pivac's last season, but again they have to navigate the choppy waters of Pool Four.

2pts each-way 8-1 general
1pt each-way 14-1 Betfred, Betway, BoyleSports

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Montpellier won the Challenge Cup in 2016 and they have probably the easiest pool draw of all
E.W. Terms
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