French champions Toulouse look the value for European glory in competitive Heineken Cup field

RUGBY’S best northern hemisphere cup competition kicks-off this evening as the strongest sides around battle for the Heineken Cup crown. It’s a grueling seven months and the question on everyone’s mind is whether anyone can stop the formidable Leinster.

The defending champions obliterated rivals Ulster in last year’s final 42-14 at Twickenham to bring home their second successive trophy. It was their third in four seasons and it’s no surprise to see that Josef Schmidt’s outfit are the 9/2 favourites to retain their title.

The Boys in Blue were utterly dominant throughout last season, triumphing in five of their six group games and winning convincingly in each of their knock-out contests.

Even though the final is in Dublin, at a short price and given the fact that no side has ever won three titles on the bounce, I am willing to leave Leinster alone.

Toulouse are next in the betting, available at a general 6/1, and are looking to improve on their quarter-final exit in 2011/12. France’s best club are the Top 14 champions and boast a plethora of attacking talent, while they hold the record for Heineken Cup titles, at four, and have reached the final on six occasions. Supported by the biggest budget in lucrative French rugby they have improved their squad again and are my tip for a fifth trophy.

English champions Harlequins have started the Aviva Premiership brightly with four wins from six and were unlucky not to qualify for the knock-out stages last year. At 13/2 they represent good value in the each-way market to make a real challenge in Europe.

Last season’s beaten finalists Ulster can be backed at 20/1, but they will have a hard time even escaping a tricky looking Pool One, including Saracens, Edinburgh and Racing Metro. Edinburgh defeated Ulster last year and Saracens were the only English side to reach the last eight. I am willing to buy Saracens’ Pool One index at 16.5 as the spread betting firm are awarding 25 points for the winner, 10 points for the runner-up, five points for third and zero for last.

Toulon’s Steffon Armitage offers an interesting selection in the top try scorer market at 66/1. The flanker scored seven times last season and already has two five-pointers this year. In a relatively weak Pool he is a decent back to lay option on Betfair.
Pointers…
Toulouse to win the Heineken Cup at 6/1 with Coral
Buy Saracens’ Pool One index at 16.5 with Sporting Index
Steffon Armitage to be top try scorer at 66/1 on Betfair