Two French teams contested the final of last year’s Heineken Cup and two French teams represent the best pre-tournament value on the eve of the European club rugby union event.
The suggested Heineken Cup plays fall into two categories: safe and speculative. Safe is what Clermont Auvergne looks in Heineken Cup Pool Four as the side from the city famous for Michelin tyres attempts to go one better than 2012 and take out its first title having lost 15-16 to Toulon in last season’s championship decider at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
Clermont Auvergne is in Heineken Cup Pool Four alongside Harlequins, Racing Metro and the Scarlets. Harlequins has made a slow start to its English Premiership campaign and the same goes for the Scarlets in the Pro 12 that features sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. Racing Metro is trailing Clermont Auvergne in France’s Top 14 so there is no doubt that bookmakers have got the right favourite to win the section. But is Clermont Auvergne overpriced at odds of 1.53 with Betfred to finish on top of the pile?
The answer is probably yes. Why? Because Clermont Auvergne has won 64 consecutive home matches across all competitions and, therefore, it is going to require a very special effort from Harlequins, Racing Metro or the Scarlets to accrue more points than Vern Cotter’s team. Clermont Auvergne won eight of its nine games in last term’s Heineken Cup and it feels as though most bookmakers are not affording it sufficient respect in what is a good but far from great section.
If Clermont Auvergne is the safe Heineken Cup punt then the speculative one is on Montpellier to upset the odds in Pool Five. Montpellier came out of the Heineken Cup hat alongside a couple of former champions, Leicester and Ulster, plus Italian lightweight Treviso. Bookmakers reacted by putting Montpellier on the third line of Heineken Cup Pool Five betting, offering odds as big as 6.50 about the French side qualifying for the quarter-finals as a group winner.
Leicester and Ulster have made reasonable starts to their respective domestic leagues but neither the Tigers nor the Ulstermen have blown anyone away with their performances. Montpellier, on the other hand, leads the French Top 14 after nine rounds in which it thrashed both Clermont Auvergne (43-3) and Toulouse (25-0) as well as drawn 22-22 with Toulon. Montpellier would be well clear of its French Top 14 rivals had it got the victory that it deserved versus Toulon and not had five third match official decisions go against it away to Biarritz, a game that it lost 12-19.
One could make a pretty good case for Montpellier being the Heineken Cup Pool Five favourite yet BetVictor are quoting Fabien Galthie’s improving side at odds of 6.50.
Another factor, albeit minor, in favour of snapping up odds of 6.50 about Montpellier topping Heineken Cup Pool Five is the section’s schedule. Montpellier’s first two matches are away to the group’s weakest link, Treviso, and home to the general second favourite, Ulster. If Ulster beats Leicester first up and Montpellier goes two from two then bookmakers are not going to be offering the French team at 6.50.
It does not make a great deal of sense to take short odds about any side winning the Heineken Cup at this stage because the draw for the knockout rounds will play such a huge role in determining the outcome. Punters itching to play in the title market could do worse than to back Montpellier at odds of 34.00, a price that is available at Paddy Power.
Top try scorer is a popular exotic in any major rugby union competition. Toulon is the Heineken Cup favourite that has drawn the easiest pool but such is Toulon’s strength in depth that none of its backs is guaranteed to start. The favourite is Clermont Auvergne wing Napolioni Nalaga, a giant of a man who has been called the new Jonah Lomu. Nalaga is available at odds of 11.00 with Ladbrokes.