Drink to Toulon and Ulster in Heineken Cup

Heineken Cup

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Published: 12/10/2012

Leinster has won the last two Heineken Cup tournaments and, with this season`s championship game scheduled for Dublin`s Aviva Stadium, bookmakers have got the province centred on Ireland`s capital city as the title favourite.

There will be plenty of takers of the generally available 9-2 about Josef Schmidt`s team going back to back to back, with punters willing to pay a premium to support the side that sometimes plays its home matches at the final venue.

But it is a long road from the Heineken Cup pools to the tournament decider and one on which everything may not go according to the script for Leinster. For example, it will know that it has been in a fight against Pool Five rival Clermont Auvergne and, if it slips up and does not finish first in the four-team section, it could find itself hitting the road and not enjoying a series of knockout home games.

Consequently, the two Heineken Cup sides that make the most ante-post appeal at the odds are French plutocrat Toulon and Irish battler Ulster. Toulon has been backed into around 7-1, while Ulster is available at around the 20-1 mark.

Without wishing to be unkind, Toulon has underachieved for all the money that its president, comic publisher Mourad Boudjellal, has splashed out on recruiting star players to the city on France`s Mediterrean coast. But that could be about to change as former Les Bleus boss Bernard Laporte`s team is flying high in the French Top 14 competition and it has been drawn in the weakest of the six Heineken Cup pools.

Toulon is at the summit of the French Top 14 ladder after eight rounds as a consequence of seven victories and one defeat, its loss coming away to Toulouse. And Laporte`s side ought to win Pool Six of the Heineken Cup since it is up against out-of-form Cardiff and Sale teams and a Montpellier side that it has beaten away from home already this season.

Full of expensively acquired match winners, including Rugby World Cup-winning five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson, Toulon looks like it may be about to fulfil its potential and, therefore, it should not be that much longer odds than Leinster.

Nor should Ulster, the team which Leinster beat 42-14 in the Heineken Cup title decider last season. Mark Anscombe`s side has made a fine start to its domestic campaign and is top of the Pro12 League with a perfect five wins from five games.

There is a very good chance that little will separate Ulster and Leinster in the Pro12 standings at the end of the season and, therefore, it seems quite ludicrous for one of them to be the 9-2 favourite and the other to be a 20-1 outsider.

At 20-1, Ulster is rated lower than eight of its Heineken Cup adversaries and that seems rather disrespectful given its effort in reaching last term`s final and, also, its impressive start to the Pro12 competition that is contested by teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

One could think about backing Ulster each way but go for gold and back it on the nose. If it gets to the big match and Leinster does not, it will become a de facto home side.


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