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Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Warriors have the weapons to wage a winning battle

Montpellier stars can shine

Glasgow beat Leicester and Racing 92 home and away last season
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The European Champions Cup becomes more of a punting minefield every year as the same big names seem to hold the balance of power.

Champions Saracens, Irish powerhouses Leinster and Munster, French giants Toulon, Clermont and Racing 92 dominate the betting, with new arrivals such as Montpellier hitting the scene and former winners including Leicester struggling to stay with the pack.

The draw goes a long way to dictating which of those star names will be bigger or shorter prices but fleeting domestic form sometimes takes a back seat as bookmakers know European pedigree counts for more.

Sarries look set to take all the beating again - the depth of their squad, the excellence of their coaching, their composure on the pitch and the assuredness of their performances probably make them the safest bet.

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But aiming for a third successive title is a huge challenge and they are sure to have to balance that with a desire to win back their domestic title.

Second-favourites Toulon are a decent price at 8-1 but they have been underwhelming this season. For all the firepower they boast, with Chris Ashton, Mathieu Bastareaud, Vincent Clerc, Brian Habana, JP Pietersen and Semi Radrada in the squad, they have managed four tries in just one of their seven Top 14 matches and have shipped more than they have scored.

Toulon look more of an expensively assembled assortment of stars than a team, and the same can be said of 2016 runners-up Racing 92, who go into their opener against Leicester on a run of three straight league defeats.

Clermont, beaten finalists for the third time in five years last season, have looked better but they are in a group with Saracens, and how often can you keep trusting a team who so often fall at the final hurdle?

Leinster and Munster as ever lead the Irish charge, while the X-factor comes in the shape of French clubs Montpellier and La Rochelle, but one team could just outshine them all at outstanding odds.

Best bet
Glasgow 80-1
If European pedigree is the be-all and end-all then Glasgow barely rate a second look after their first quarter-final appearance last season ended in a heavy defeat, and they have been landed with a desperately difficult draw up against three-time winners Leinster, English champions Exeter and star-studded Montpellier.

But they emerged from an equally tough section last year, beating Leicester and Racing 92 home and away, going down only narrowly at home to Munster.

The Warriors beat Montpellier home and away the last time they were paired with them in 2014-15 and did the same to Exeter the season before, so they should not be intimidated by any of their fixtures, and confidence is a crucial factor for the success of their fearless attacking game.

They showed that to best effect in a devastating 37-10 home win over Munster in the Pro14, and their domestic record of six victories out of six is unmatched by any other team in the competition.

Those wins have included open, high-scoring open games as well as a tight 18-12 grind in wild conditions at Connacht and last week’s breathless and bruising 29-26 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein so Glasgow have clearly demonstrated they can be a team for all seasons and all styles of opponent, another critical factor in Europe.

Next best
Montpellier 10-1
Backing two teams from the same pool might seem self-defeating, but with three second-placed teams qualifying from the five pools, rather than the old two from six, there is every chance of both teams making it through so it is more than a mere insurance policy and it is so hard to ignore the talent Montpellier have at their disposal.

It’s hard to pick out one star name given they have former Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and All Black Aaron Cruden in the halves, fearsome Fijian Nemani Nadolo on the wing, powerhouse number eight Louis Picamoles, brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis in the front row - and that’s just scratching the surface.

The fear with French teams is that they won’t give their all in Europe and Montpellier have little form in the book at this level.

But ironically they have been pilloried by rival fans - and some of their own for not being French enough, with their raft of overseas talent and a Kiwi coach at the helm, none other than Vern Cotter, who will surely give his all after so many attempts with Clermont.

Cotter rested many of his star names in last weekend’s defeat to Stade Francais - the exact opposite of what many other Top 14 coaches would do and a clear indication that this tournament is a target.

They are second in the Top 14 table and are by some distance the top scorers with 241 points and 32 tries in seven games.

2pts each-way 80-1 BoyleSports
1pt each-way 10-1 Betfred, Hills

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Aiming for a third successive title is a huge challenge and Saracens are sure to have to balance that with a desire to win back their domestic title
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