Alun Wyn Jones Champions Cup pool-by-pool guide

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Pool 1

Leinster

Coach: Leo Cullen.

Captain: Johnny Sexton.

Last season: Runners-up.

How they qualified: Pro 14 champions.

Key man: Sexton is the easy answer but his 34-year-old body cannot guarantee he will play enough rugby so it has to be James Ryan.

This season’s form guide: WWWWW.

Prospects: Well oiled but nothing short of a second title in three seasons will suffice now that Saracens are threatening to take their eye off the European ball. Champions elect.

Benetton Treviso

Coach: Kieran Crowley.

Captain: Dean Budd

Last season: Did not qualify.

How they qualified: Finished third in Conference B of the Pro 14.

Key man: Tommaso Allan or Ian McKinley. Should that pair falter, arise Ian Keatley.

This season’s form guide: LWWLL.

Prospects: They should be competitive enough to win a Champions Cup game for the first time since January 2015. Maybe they can catch Northampton or Lyon at home.

Alun Wyn Jones Leinster’s James Ryan.
Leinster’s James Ryan.

Lyon

Coach: Pierre Mignoni.

Captains: Felix Lambey and Baptiste Couilloud.

Last season: Eliminated after losing all six pool games.

How they qualified: Via an excellent third place finish in the Top 14.

Key man: Demba Bamba arrives from Brive with an eye on becoming the games most ferocious scrummager.

This season’s form guide: WLWWW.

Prospects: Roll the dice. Worst team for Leinster to face away in the early rounds because they are expected to be distracted by domestic affairs come December and January.

Northampton Saints

Coach: Chris Boyd.

Captain: Alex Waller.

Last season: Did not qualify.

How they qualified: Finished fourth in Premiership.

Key man: Taqele Naiyaravoro, the Wallaby winger born in Fiji, can destroy any team if allowed space to build up a head of steam. Special mention for Owen Franks.

This season’s form guide: LWWW.

Prospects: With Dan Biggar pulling the strings they should escape the pool. December back-to-backs with Leinster will tell all.

Pool 2

Exeter Chiefs

Coach: Rob Baxter.

Captain: Jack Yeandle.

Last season: Failed to escape Munster’s pool.

How they qualified: Topped the Premiership but lost final to Saracens.

Key man: Henry Slade oozes class in midfield but it has to be new signing at fullback Stuart “Scotland can win the World Cup” Hogg. Add Jack Nowell to this potion and the Chiefs should be electric with ball in hand.

This season’s form guide: LWWL.

Prospects: Coming out party, quarter-finals at least.

Glasgow Warriors

Coach: Dave Rennie.

Captains: Ryan Wilson and Callum Gibbins.

Last season: Destroyed by Saracens in quarter-final.

How they qualified: Top of Conference A in Pro 14.

Key man: Adam Hastings has been hinting at becoming a world class 10 for a season or two. Here’s his chance to step up.

This season’s form guide: WWLWL.

Prospects: Hard to trust Glasgow even with a coach of Rennie’s calibre, who they seem destined to lose next summer.

Alun Wyn Jones La Rochelle’s coach Ronan O’Gara.
La Rochelle’s coach Ronan O’Gara.

La Rochelle

Coach: Ronan O’Gara.

Captain: Romain Sazy.

Last season: Did not qualify.

How they qualified: Fifth in the Top 14.

Key man: Fijian winger Josua Tuisova tore up Wales at the World Cup. More of the same if Kiwi outhalf Ihaia West can find him.

This season’s form guide: LWWLL.

Prospects: Relegation tends to be unforgivable in France so with four wins from nine Top 14 games so far, O’Gara will be forgiven for treating his favourite playground as an afterthought.

Sale Sharks

Coach: Steve Diamond.

Captain: Jono Ross.

Last season: Did not qualify.

How they qualified: Sneaked in after finishing seventh in Premiership.

Key man: Faf de Klerk is unquestionably the main man after guiding South Africa to the World Cup but AJ MacGinty kicks the goals.

This season’s form guide: WLLW.

Prospects: With the Curry brothers in the backrow, Sale should make the last eight.

Pool 3

Ulster

Coach: Dan McFarland.

Captain: Iain Henderson.

Last season: Almost put Leinster out in a quarter-final thriller.

How they qualified: Second in Conference B of the Pro 14.

Key man: Marcell Coetzee is Ulster’s best player but John Cooney is the most important as the scrumhalf will be kicking the goals and running the attack.

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