European Rugby Champions Cup preview: Pool 2
By Rob Mulhern
Last Updated: 13/10/17 10:13am
Pool 2 of this year's Champions Cup sees a repeat of last year's final with Saracens coming up against Clermont, while the Ospreys and Northampton Saints will look to pull off a scalp or two.
Teams: Saracens, Clermont, Northampton, Ospreys
Following their tremendously exciting meeting in last year's Champions Cup final, it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top between two of the strongest squads in the whole competition.
Northampton qualified via a playoff victory over Stade Francais and will hope for better after a washout of a European campaign last year, while Ospreys return to Europe's top table after missing out last season.
Champions Cup Record: P82 W57 D1 L24
Best Finish: Champions (2015/16, 2016/17)
What's hot: Saracens have started in ominous form and have ridiculous strength in depth. Mark McCall's side are looking to emulate Toulon's feat from 2013-15 of winning the trophy three years in a row.
What's not: Top of the Aviva Premiership and current European champions, Saracens are entitled to a pass on this entry. Billy Vunipola's injury is the only negative at the moment.
What's changed: Little in terms of consistency. You have to go back to April 18 2015 for the last time Saracens lost in this competition, that was to Clermont in the semi-finals. They are no longer the champions of England though after losing to eventual winners Exeter at the semi-final stage.
Key Player: Owen Farrell
Champions Cup Record: P100 W62 D1 L37
Best Finish: Runners-up (2012/13, 2014/15, 2016/17)
What's hot: Fijian flyer Alivereti Raka, classy midfielder Damian Penaud and fit again star Wesley Fofana possess the kind of x-factor that suggests Clermont will be anything but dull in this tournament.
What's not: Clermont are in the bottom half of the Top 14 without a win away from home and their start to the season has been unexpectedly poor in patches.
What's changed: Beaten finalists three times in the past five years, Clermont will be bidding to banish their 'bridesmaid' tag. They are the reigning Top 14 champions, however, heading into this year.
Key Player: Morgan Parra
Champions Cup Record: P103 W60 D1 L42
Best Finish: Champions (1999/00)
What's hot: Jim Mallinder's side are third in the Aviva Premiership but their early season form placed them top of the table before defeat to Gloucester in the last round.
What's not: Opening their European campaign against the two-time defending champions is an unenviable start, particularly when the same opposition put 55 points on them on opening day, but Saints do enjoy home advantage. Losing Louis Picamoles after just one season to Montpellier was also a great shame.
What's changed: Northampton have rallied since being well beaten by Saracens on the opening day of the Premiership. Can they reverse that result on the opening day of the Champions Cup?
Key Player: Dylan Hartley
Champions Cup Record: P81 W35 D4 L31
Best Finish: Quarter-final (2007/08, 2008/09, 2009/10)
What's hot: In Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Justin Tipuric and Alun Wyn Jones, Ospreys have real individual quality at odds with their current league position.
What's not: Ospreys are joint bottom of the PRO14 having slumped to a record fifth league defeat to Scarlets in the last round. Both Biggar and Webb have also already confirmed they will be leaving after this campaign to Northampton and Toulon respectively.
What's changed: Consistently one of the top performers in the PRO12 in recent seasons, Ospreys find themselves in an unusual position at the foot of the table.
Key Player: Dan Biggar