It has been less than a fortnight since New Zealand were crowned the World Cup winners again but the start of the European Champions Cup is already looming as attention switches back to club rugby. Toulon will be going for an unprecedented fourth successive triumph and are understandably short-priced favourites to achieve this feat.
But although they remain the most likely winners there has to be some doubt they can defend their trophy yet again. The French giants are just 4.1 to win the competition but have been placed in an extremely challenging pool. Leinster, Wasps and Bath will present a tough examination for Toulon and there is no guarantee of their progress so it is worth looking elsewhere in the outright market.
Clermont Auvergne are just behind Toulon in the betting and this is no real surprise considering the French club have done everything but win the tournament in recent years. Clermont have twice been runners-up in the last three seasons and are bound to be in the frame again for top honours. But 4.216/5 looks short enough for a team yet to get their hands on the top prize in European competition.
The Grand Stade de Lyon will host this season's final and there is every chance of at least one French side going the distance. But Racing Metro are worthy of consideration as a value alternative to the two favourites for the competition. The Paris side reached the quarter-finals last year but could easily go much further this time around.
Racing Metro have got no shortage of star power in their squad with the arrival of Dan Carter the undoubted highlight. Fresh from his exceptional performance in the World Cup final, the All Black fly-half will significantly enhance a side featuring the likes of Juan Imhoff and Teddy Thomas. Pitched in a winnable group featuring Northampton, Glasgow and the Scarlets, Racing Metro have the potential to challenge for their first Champions Cup at a tempting 15.5.
The French have dominated this competition, with four wins from the last six years, both in its current format and formerly in the Heineken Cup. Another team which could compete at a generous price are Toulouse. Their record in the European tournament is second to none with four wins although the last one came back in 2010 which was also the last time the final was held in France.
Toulouse have made a promising start to the Top 14 this season under new head coach Ugo Mola. The team have a strong backbone of French internationals which is complemented with the talent of overseas players such as Toby Flood and Luke McAlister. Their pool is not straight forward as they face competition from Saracens and Ulster, along with newcomers Oyonnax, but if they can emerge from the group then their experience and ability could make a mockery of their price at 17.016/1.
Leinster also came in for consideration with the return of Jonny Sexton a major boost to their chances but they have not been given a good draw and face a struggle with Toulon to reach the knockout stages. The Premiership clubs have plenty to prove on this stage with Sarries the side best equipped after going close in the last few years.
But Wasps' win in 2007 was the last time an English side won the trophy and the wait could go on with the financial clout of the French sides giving them a significant advantage. Toulon obviously merit respect after their remarkable run over the last three years but Racing Metro and Toulouse are suggested as bigger priced alternatives for this year's competition.
Back Racing Metro to win the Champions Cup at 15.5
Back Toulouse to win the Champions Cup in the Sportsbook at 17.016/1
Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster
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