Leinster. Leinster head into this campaign as defending champions and look odds-on to reach the summit again with their experienced side. Having added Jimmy Gopperth from Newcastle Falcons and experienced Springbok Zane Kirchner from the Blue Bulls, Leinster boast even more in the way of big game experience with the likes of Leo Cullen, Gordon D’arcy and Fergus McFadden having been there, done it and got every t-shirt known to man. They look the strongest on paper and have the depth to triumph this time round. They will miss talismanic fly-half Jonny Sexton who moves to Racing Metro on a year long sabbatical before return to the province for next season. Gopperth and Ian Madigan should have enough between them to provide a solid option at 10 for their side.
Leinster, Glasgow, Ulster and Cardiff Blues. Leinster may not finish top but they will be nailed on for a top-four playoff finish. Last year’s beaten finalists Ulster will be looking to go one better this time around, while the Warriors looked very strong in their last campaign. They have added some depth to their squad in Richie Vernon from Sale and Leone Nakarawa from Fiji Warriors, while retaining the services of the likes of Stuart Hogg, Duncan Weir and Sean Lamont. The Blues will be buoyed by services of Wales and British Lions captain Sam Warburton as well as the signing of Adam Jones to bolster the front row. They will be more focussed on the league since they are in Europe’s second tier competition so hopes remain high for the Blues.
Toulon sans Jonny Wilkinson will be looking show they have more to them than the metronomic fly-half brought to the party with some big-hitting names in top-class European rugby in their dressing room. In their way will be the usual Irish strength, with Leinster and Munster doing battle once more. In the second tier European Challenge Cup, Stade Francais will be looking to prove a point after missing out to London Wasps over a two-legged playoff in the summer. Connacht will be flying the flag for the Irish sides while Glasgow and Cardiff Blues will also be looking to turn a few heads.
Ospreys. Having won the tournament two seasons ago, the Welsh outfit have been somewhat forgotten this season, but they will be keen to prove that they shouldn’t be cast aside so easily. They have added Josh Matevesi from Worcester and Dan Evans from the Dragons to bolster their line-up, but will be without Welsh international Richard Hibbard who makes his move to the cherry and whites. A top four finish may be beyond them but they will certainly turn a few heads in the tournament this year.
The race for Europe. With places in the new-look European competitions up for grabs this year, teams will have more motivation to keep up their efforts for the whole season even if a top-four place is beyond them. Teams like Edinburgh and Cardiff will be focussed on qualification through league position and will want to make sure of a strong campaign this season to ensure premier
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