Teams: Leicester Tigers, Ospreys, Toulouse, Treviso
McCafferty Unfairness Factor: Low. Treviso may have finished outside the top 6 of the Pro12, but they are de facto Italian champions, and deserve a place. The other three are either league champions (Ospreys, Toulouse) or runners-up (Leicester).
Preview: The proverbial group of death, containing the best team in Wales, the best team in France, historically the biggest guns in England (and the most successful at this level) and the best team in Italy.
Treviso are the obvious bunnies here, but they are no mugs at home — they spoiled Ospreys’ European season last year and nearly turned over Leicester themselves in the recent past — both will be forewarned, but don’t expect Treviso to lose six games, despite the quality of the opposition.
All three of the other sides are domestic heavyweights, but they will all have their eyes on success in both competitions – you won’t find any Castres types here. Each of them are armed with ferocious packs, and will expect to win their home games. Ospreys have often flattered to deceive at this level, but fear nobody — the binning of the galacticos has barely impacted their effectiveness, and Justin Tipruic is the best openside in the NH at present.
As for Leicester and Toulouse, no-one needs reminding of their pedigree in the competition, but they are both coming off disappointing seasons in Europe.
Toulouse scraped into the QFs on the back of Quins’ implosion in the Sportsground, following their own implosion to Gloucesters Road Runners, then limply capitulated to Embra. Leicester endured a fearful beating in Ravers on a classic freezing Belfast night and finished third in a nightmare pool, albeit with wins against Ulster (beaten finalists) and Clermont (beaten semi-finalists) and a team decimated by injury. Both will be hoping for redemption this season.
Verdict: This is a desperately difficult pool to call. Each of the big three will win their home games, and it will come down to who doesn’t slip up in Treviso, and how many bonus points they can glean away from home.
We have a slight leaning towards Leicester by dint of their general toughness, and memories of how disinterested Toulouse looked in their crunch game against Glaws last year — the attritional nature of the Top14 seemed to take more focus than usual for Les Rouges et Noirs. Ospreys are much improved, but are perhaps a year or two away from being able to win a group like this. Either way, expect this one to go down to the last breathless mucky scrum.