The first Sunday of Heineken Cup action brings us four fascinating games, including must win games for the three English sides and a mouth-watering all-French clash.
"There are few better ways to spend an autumnal Sunday afternoon than with the heat of a warm fire, the glow of a reviving drink and the sight of Dylan Hartley missing another lineout jumper."
Mid-October and the three wonderful harbingers of autumn are upon us - darker nights that are not yet too cold to be out in, multi-coloured leaves falling from trees, and the opening weekend of the Heineken Cup season. There are few better ways to spend an autumnal Sunday afternoon than with the heat of a warm fire, the glow of a reviving drink and the sight of Dylan Hartley missing another lineout jumper.
Northampton v Glasgow
Sky Sports 1
The Premiership leaders kick off their campaign against a Glasgow side who have been very much the 'second team' in Scotland for the past few years. Both know that a win is vital because, with last season's runners up Ulster in the group, qualification could very well be determined by how well these two do against one another and against Castres, the fourth side in the group.
This could be a very close game indeed. Edinburgh are a much improved side this year, whilst Northampton come into this game on the back of last weekend's thumping from London Irish. With all of that in mind, the [6.2] on a surprise Glasgow victory is too good to miss.
Sale v Cardiff Blues
Sky Sports 1 (red button only)
Sale really don't need the distraction of this competition. Winless all season and, as a result, rooted to the bottom of the Premiership, they are going to need more than the influence of new assistant coach John Mitchell to get out of this pool. Cardiff, meanwhile, are once again proving themselves the professional embodiment of that old insult, 'all the gear but no idea'. Their side is jam-packed with talent, yet they are bumping around in the lower reaches of the Celtic League for the second season running.
Essentially, this is a game between two sides who badly need a convincing win to kick-start their seasons. With Toulon (Jonny Wilkinson and all) and Montpellier in this group qualification is probably beyond either side, so their games against one another are in effect their own little European finals. Expect a closely fought 'first leg' and take the Blues to shade it at [2.36]
Toulouse v Leicester
Sky Sports 1
Pool 2 has already been dubbed 'the Group of Death' (it seems mandatory to have one in any tournament nowadays, doesn't it) and it is easy to see why, with these two sides and the Ospreys pretty much having to decide qualification by margin of victory over the improving Italians from Benetton Treviso. Leicester, currently third in the Premiership, are still missing England flanker Tom Croft for what should be a fine forward battle against a Toulouse side who are cruising in second place in the Top 14 despite not really hitting their best form yet.
Any road game is going to be difficult to win in this pool and Leicester may well be happy to settle for a bonus point from this match. With that in mind, look to back a Toulouse winning margin of under 12.5 points if the price is anything over [2.0]
Toulon v Montpellier
Sky Sports 2
Sometimes it must seem to Toulon coach Bernard Laporte that the most difficult part of his day is deciding which expensively-signed star to leave out of the side this week. They currently lead the Top 14 and whilst their record in this tournament is not great (their best result was a quarter final place two seasons ago) their chances of making it out of this group will be greatly enhanced by having a domestic rival in the group.
Montpellier, for their part, had a tough baptism in the competition last year and will want to do a lot better this year. Expect them to show the same tenacity that coach Fabien Galthie did during his playing days, but Toulon are [1.12] for a reason and it would be a brave act to bet against them.
Back Glasgow at 6.25/1 to beat Northampton