European Rugby Champions Cup: Leicester can hold their own against Glasgow

Saracens start the defence of their trophy with a daunting trip to former winners Toulon
Saracens start the defence of their trophy with a daunting trip to former winners Toulon

The first round of the European Champions Cup gets underway this weekend and Simon Mail previews a selection of the opening group games...

"Glasgow are seen as narrow favourites for this match but the European pedigree of Leicester could prove the difference in a tight clash. The Tigers have won four of the five meetings against their opponents."

Glasgow v Leicester
Friday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2

The Champions Cup kicks off in Scotland this weekend with Glasgow hosting Leicester. The Warriors have got off to a solid start in the Pro 12 with four wins from six matches putting them fourth in the table. Glasgow failed to progress from their pool last season and are looking to reach the knockout stages for the first time in 19 years.

Leicester have yet to hit top form in the Premiership this season although four victories leave them inside the top four of the competition. Richard Cockerill's side reached the semi-final of this tournament last season and the two-time winners will know a fast start is important with games against Munster and Racing Metro to come.

Glasgow are seen as narrow favourites for this match but the European pedigree of Leicester could prove the difference in a tight clash. The Tigers have won four of the five meetings against their opponents. This game could be settled by fine margins but the visitors offer more appeal with a four-point handicap advantage.

Recommended Bet
Back Leicester +4 to win in the Sportsbook @ 9/10

Wasps v Zebre
Saturday, 13:00
Live on Sky Sports 2

Wasps' unbeaten start to the season may be over but the Premiership club have already set down a marker of their title credentials. Dai Young's side won their opening four games and only champions Saracens stopped them in their tracks last weekend. Wasps impressed in Europe last season as they reached the last-four stage.

Zebre are propping up the Pro 12 table after losing all five of their games and it could be a challenging campaign in this competition. The Italians have not featured in the tournament since 2013-14 when they lost all of their group matches. Zebre have never won a game in the Champions Cup and the odds are not in their favour for breaking this run.

The outcome of this match is not really in question with Wasps expected to breeze home. The handicap mark is set at 44 points and the hosts have the firepower to cover this. Wasps have already scored 70 points against Bristol this season so the evidence is convincing. The English side can start the tournament in style with a rout in Coventry.

Recommended Bet
Back Wasps -44 to win in the Sportsbook @ 10/11

Toulon v Saracens
Saturday, 15:15
Live on BT Sport 2

The biggest game of the weekend takes place in France where three-time winners Toulon take on the defending champions. The hosts' dominance in the competition came to an end last season after their quarter-final exit at the hands of Racing Metro. Toulon, who are fourth in the Top 14, still have an abundance of talent within their squad and know a strong start could set them on the path to another European trophy.

But their opponents will take some stopping after their stranglehold on the competition last year. Saracens won every single match on their way to the final victory over Racing Metro and the Premiership champions are favourites to defend their crown. Sarries have started the season with five wins from their opening six matches.

This has all the makings of a classic European showdown with the winners taking significant momentum into the rest of the tournament. Toulon have won both of the previous two meetings in the competition and with home advantage could have the edge over their rivals. Saracens can never be written off but the hosts are fancied to hold off their challenge and claim a narrow victory in their pool opener.

Recommended Bet
Back Toulon to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook @ 8/5

Northampton v Montpellier
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 2

Northampton have made a surprisingly poor start to the domestic season and will be hoping they can take the pressure off with a strong European campaign. Jim Mallinder's side are languishing in ninth place in the Premiership after four defeats from their opening six games. The Saints have reached the quarter-finals of the competition during the last two seasons.

Montpellier have already tasted recent European success after winning the Challenge Cup last season. Jake White's team will be hoping to translate this form into the Champions Cup although they know this represents a serious upgrade in quality. Montpellier reached the Top 14 semi-finals last season and are currently second in the table.

With such disappointing form in England, Northampton badly need a big performance and result in Europe. Winning home games are key to progression in the competition and a victory at Franklin's Gardens is required this weekend. This fixture looks evenly matched but the Saints are capable of raising their game. Northampton can claim a tight win in a match likely to be decided by fine margins.

Recommended Bet
Back Northampton to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook @ 9/5

Scarlets v Sale
Saturday, 19:45
Live on BT Sport 2

The Scarlets are currently in the middle of the pack with three wins and as many defeats in the Pro 12. It has been nine years since the Welsh side have managed to progress from their group in the competition and it is difficult to make a case for them qualifying this season with giants Toulon and Saracens providing the opposition in their pool.

Sale make their return to the Champions Cup after missing out last season and the Premiership side will certainly not prove easy opponents. The Sharks are mid-table in the league but have already claimed a notable scalp by defeating Leicester. Sale will not be expected to qualify for the knockout stages but could pose problems for other teams in the group.

It should be a real battle at Parc y Scarlets and defences could be on top. The two previous clashes between the teams in the competition both resulted in wins for the Scarlets. These wins came by no more than 11 points so it would be a surprise if either side raced away from their opponents. Sale are yet to win away this season though so the hosts are backed to edge to a winning start.

Recommended Bet
Back Scarlets to win by 1-12 points in the Sportsbook at 6/4

Exeter v Clermont
Sunday, 17:30
Live on BT Sport 2

Exeter enjoyed their return to the competition last season after reaching the quarter-finals. The Chiefs won all their home games including a memorable 31-14 victory over this weekend's opponents Clermont. Rob Baxter's side went all the way to the final of the Premiership last season and with an extra year of experience in Europe under their belts could go well again.

Clermont are the nearly men of the Champions Cup after years of frustration in the tournament. Failure to get out of the group last season was a surprise as the French side have reached the final twice since 2013. Clermont are currently setting the pace in the Top 14 and are among the favourites to go all the way to the Edinburgh final.

The Chiefs should take real belief from their victory over Clermont last season and Baxter has said this is the type of game which should lift them after a few indifferent Premiership results. The visitors are narrow favourites but do not always travel well, as demonstrated last year, so Exeter can repeat the feat on Sunday.

Recommended Bet
Back Exeter to win at 2.245/4


Follow Simon's bets on Twitter @watfordtipster

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