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Nic Ladds 7th Oct 2009 - 14:54

Get ready - The Heineken Cup returns

The most exciting European competition in rugby union is back with Ulster taking on Bath in the first game of the Heineken Cup.

After Leinster (9/1 to win this year) just edged out Leicester (10/1) last year all eyes will be on the holders as they take on high flying London Irish (16/1) in their first match.

With 4/1 favourites Munster and tough French sides Toulouse (7/1 for outright glory) and Stade Francais (8/1) also in action, it is shaping up to be a mouth-watering opening day.

Here we thought we'd take a look at the pools and see if we can find any gems to qualify for the knock-out stages and have a stab at picking an outright winner at this early stage.

Pool 1 - Munster 4/6, Perpignan 2/1, Northampton 9/2, Treviso 500/1

Favourites Munster have had a low key start to the season by their high standards and have been battered 30-0 by arch rivals Leinster in the Magners League. Despite this their Heineken Cup pedigree is obvious having won it twice in the last four years, and they are worthy favourites to top the pool. Italian side Treviso have no chance while it will be close between Perpignan and Northampton as the Saints are sure to be unbeatable at Franklins Gardens but if they struggle away the French side can sneak second spot while Munster look good for topping the pool.

Pool 2 - Biarritz 11/8, Gloucester 11/8, Glasgow 9/2, Dragons 10/1

Biarritz look an absolutely cracking bet at 11/8 to top Pool 2, Gloucester are not the team they were last year and have looked shaky this season, including leaving it very late to put the terrible Leeds Carnegie away. Glasgow are a good shout for second but it is unlikely either they or Newport Dragons will be able to topple the French side, who have had a strong start to the season and look a fantastic bet at 11/8.

Pool 3 - Clermont 11/8, Leicester 6/4, Ospreys 12/5, Viadana 1000/1

Three of the big guns are drawn together in this group and all will be confident of winning home games so it is likely to come down to bonus points and away form. Ospreys do look the most vulnerable having already been beaten at their Swansea home by both Leinster and Ulster. It took The Tigers an age to even score a try this season but they look to be getting in to gear and they will need to be to get the better of current Top 14 table toppers Clermont. Leicester get the nod to top the group on the grounds of their Heineken Cup pedigree and last year's beaten finalists could go one better this time.

Pool 4 - Stade Francais 8/13, Bath 5/2, Edinburgh 11/2, Ulster 16/1

It is very hard to look past Stade Francais who look set to mount their usual challenge at going all the way and with the likes of James Haskell and Sergio Parisse in their pack they are a force to be reckoned with for any team. Bath have not had the best start having lost three of their five games and high flying Ulster could be worth a small wager at 16/1 for those wishing to oppose the French side as they currently sit second in the Magners League, while Edinburgh also could end up above the English side and creep the second spot but as far as Pool bankers go, Stade Francais look the most solid.

Pool 5 - Toulouse 8/11, Cardiff 3/1, Harlequins 4/1, Sale 10/1

An incredibly tough group where rightly Toulouse are favourites as Harlequins struggle to overcome their off field problems, Cardiff have lost four of their opening five games and Sale just don't look good enough to overturn the well-organised French outfit.  If 'Quins can get their act together they look good value for second and do have the ability to top the group and a tough opening fixture at Cardiff should give us a chance to see what they're made of. The Blues however recently got pummelled at home by an average Glasgow team and while an obvious choice, unless 'Quins show signs of recovery, Toulouse look by far the safest bet to top the group.

Pool 6 - Leinster 4/5, London Irish 7/4, Brive 7/1, Scarlets 14/1

It looks between the top two in Pool 6 with Brive not setting the Top 14 alight and Scarlets simply not good enough, it comes down to last year's winners Leinster and the dangerous looking London Irish. The Exiles have only lost to unbeaten Saracens and in Delon Armitage and the devastating Sailosi Tagicakibau they have genuine match winners who can break down any side. Leinster have the pedigree and like Irish have lost just once this season and when these two collide it should be a joy to behold. For a bet, London Irish are just favoured to get the top spot at 7/4 ahead of Leinster in a very close run thing.

It is hard to see the outright winner coming from out of the first ten in the betting and at the prices London Irish who are beginning to look the real deal and are a serious handful for anyone look a decent bet at 16/1, while Stade Francais and Leinster at 8/1 and 9/1 respectively warrant massive respect.

Munster look a little short at 4/1 while Leicester (10/1), Gloucester and Ospreys (both 20/1) have not started the season convincingly enough to suggest they have the ability to challenge the top boys in Europe.

The winner looks like it could well come from Pool 6 with whoever fares best out of Leinster at 9/1 and London Irish at 16/1 for outright glory, capable of going all the way with 8/1 Stade Francais the main danger.


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