European Rugby Champions Cup preview: Pool 3
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 13/10/17 10:15am
There really are no easy pools in the European Cup anymore but Pool 3 would appear to be this year's group of death.
Teams: Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, Leinster, Montpellier
The Premiership champions Exeter are joined by last season's semi-finalists and three-time winners Leinster, the superstars of Montpellier and Dave Rennie's unbeaten Glasgow Warriors. This one is going to be tight.
Champions Cup record: P25 W9 D0 L16
Best finish: Quarter-final (2015/16)
What's hot: As last year's Premiership champions, there's a lot that's hot about the Chiefs. Tremendous work ethic, an intelligent kicking game, a superb driving maul, a group of highly talented home-grown players and a manager in Rob Baxter who has been with them through thick and thin. They will be immensely hard to beat.
What's not: European experience. Despite entering as the champions of England, this will only be Exeter's fifth ever campaign in Europe's top competition. And only once have they progressed out of the pools. They also face a devil of a group this time around. Perhaps the hardest of 2017/18.
What's changed: In terms of incomings, the likes of Matt Kvesic and Nic White joined in the summer, while the major outgoing saw second-row Geoff Parling leave to join the Munakata Sanix Blues in Japan, and Melbourne Rebels thereafter.
Key player: Gareth Steenson
Champions Cup record: P110 W38 D2 L70
Best finish: Quarter-final (2016/17)
What's hot: They remain the only undefeated side in Europe's top three leagues having won six from six, including impressive wins over Munster and away to the Cheetahs. Dave Rennie looks a masterstroke of an appointment, while Callum Gibbins is up there as one of the signings of the season so far.
What's not: It's hard to find fault at the minute, but similar to Exeter, their record in Europe isn't great with last year's quarter-final appearance their only one in history. With a new head coach and host of new players, will they adapt to Europe as quickly as needed? The scrum is also an area of potential weakness which they need to lock out.
What's changed: A lot. Gregor Townsend left to take the Scotland head coach position, with ex-Chiefs boss Rennie taking the helm. The close season also saw a massive turnover of players, with 13 incomings and 13 departures: the most in the PRO14.
Key player: Stuart Hogg
Champions Cup record: P150 W97 D5 L48
Best finish: Champions (2008/09, 2010/11, 2011/12)
What's hot: Leinster undoubtedly have one of the strongest squads in terms of depth, with most positions two or three deep with internationals, and five 2017 Lions within their ranks. When on form, very few will stop them.
What's not: Inconsistency in recent years, particularly on the big occasion. Leinster underachieved last year in losing two semi-finals and are beginning to build up a trend of losing big games, having now lost three semi-finals and a final since they last won a piece of silverware in 2014. Without Johnny Sexton, they also just aren't the same team.
What's changed: Stalwarts Mike Ross, Mike McCarthy and Hayden Triggs all retired after last season, meaning a hefty bit of experience has left the squad. Two high profile signings have been added in Scott Fardy and James Lowe, though Lowe has yet to arrive.
Key player: Johnny Sexton
Champions Cup record: P31 W12 D2 L17
Best finish: Quarter-final (2012/13)
What's hot: Did anybody recruit better over the summer? Aaron Cruden, Louis Picamoles and Ruan Pienaar are just three unbelievable transfers that come to mind, while the outstanding Jan Serfontein is to come. They also currently sit three points off the top of the Top 14 and look in menacing form. Many people's dark-horses for the tournament.
What's not: Can they do it away from home? Irrepressible at the Altrad Stadium, Montpellier have as yet been unable to replicate those performances on the road. This season they've suffered heavy losses at Bordeaux and Stade Francais, while last year in Europe away losses at Northampton, Castres and Leinster made progression impossible. Three more defeats on their travels this year could see another early exit.
What's changed: Ex-Scotland boss Vern Cotter has taken over as the new head coach, replacing South African Jake White, while 14 players exited and nine arrived.
Key player: Louis Picamoles