Heineken Cup guide

We cast our eye over the contenders as the Heineken Cup returns to Sky Sports screens this weekend...

By Joe Drabble - Twitter: @SkySportsDrabs.   Last Updated: 12/10/12 12:58pm

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Sky Bet

Pool One: Munster, Edinburgh, Saracens, Racing Metro

Racing Metro join three of last season's quarter-finalists in Pool One of this year's competition, where two-time winners Munster are strong favourites to progress to their 14th quarter-final in 18 seasons.

Doug Howlett will captain Munster

Saracens romped through the pool stages last term before receiving a French lesson from Clermont in the quarters and they are likely to find qualifying much tougher this year, although Edinburgh have endured a slow start to their RaboDirect Pro12 campaign.

The men from the Scottish capital were drawn alongside Top 14 outfit Racing at the same stage 12 months ago, contesting two enthralling matches, both of which Michael Bradley's men won at the death. The 48-47 thriller at Murrayfield will live long in the memory for Edinburgh fans.

Prediction: Munster motor on

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Saracens 13/8, Munster 13/8, Racing Metro 7/2, Edinburgh 7/1.

Pool Two: Toulouse, Leicester, Ospreys, Treviso

The Pool of Death. Former European kings Leicester and Toulouse are joined by reigning RaboDirect Pro12 champions Ospreys and ever-improving Italian side Treviso.

Guy Noves: Under pressure?

The Tigers will be smarting from a disappointing campaign in 2011-12, where they failed to advance from the pool stages, and they have now gone over a decade without lifting the trophy.

They will be buoyed by the return of a host of influential figures from injury though, and one feels they will need to be at full strength if they are to mount a serious title challenge. The whisper across the Channel is that Guy Noves is beginning to lose his magic touch at Toulouse but writing off the likes of Lionel Beauxis, Vincent Clerc and Thierry Dusautoir is a dangerous game.

Ospreys will be looking to address their uninspiring record in the competition, in which they have never made it past the quarter-finals stage. Doing so this year would be some achievement bearing in mind this draw, which includes a Treviso side who have already beaten the Welsh region in domestic action.

Prediction: Tigers roar

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Toulouse 4/5, Leicester 2/1, Ospreys 4/1, Treviso 100/1

Pool Three: Harlequins, Biarritz, Connacht, Zebre

In a complete contrast to Pool Two, there is a clear divide between the top and bottom two seeds in Pool Three.

Nick Evans: Key man for Quins

Biarritz and Harlequins will strongly fancy their chances of qualifying for the last eight after being pooled with Connacht and Heineken Cup debutants Zebre. Aviva Premiership champions Quins did suffer defeat at the hands of Connacht in Ireland last term, though, so will be taking nothing for granted when the sides meet again. Biarritz, beaten finalists in 2006 and 2010, have a strong pedigree in the competition and will be led once again by Les Bleus powerhouse forward Imanol Harinordoquy.

Prediction: Quins top, Biarritz claw into quarters

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Biarritz 10/11 , Harlequins 10/11, Connacht 25/1, Zebre 500/1

Pool Four: Ulster, Castres, Northampton, Glasgow

An intriguing pool comprising English, Irish, Scottish and French clubs all capable of producing big performances on their day.

Ulster star Ruan Pienaar

Last year's beaten finalists Ulster will start as favourites to progress after their sparkling run to the Twickenham final last time out. The Irish province have strengthened with the re-signing of centre Tommy Bowe and he, along with inspirational kicker Ruan Pienaar, will be integral to Ulster's hopes of going one better here.

The fortunes of Northampton and Castres are always hard to predict but both, you would expect, will be formidable forces on home soil. Glasgow, coached by Gregor Townsend, have made a promising start to the domestic campaign and will deem their home form as integral to their hopes of reaching the last eight.

Prediction: Ulster remain on course

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Northampton 5/4 , Ulster 6/4, Castres 4/1, Glasgow 12/1

Pool Five: Leinster, Clermont, Scarlets, Exeter

Defending champions Leinster nestle in Pool Five as coach Joe Schmidt attempts to mastermind a remarkable fourth Heineken Cup title in five years for the Irish giants.

Defending champions Leinster

They start the competition as the bookmakers' favourites to do so, however their progression from the pool stages is by no means a formality. Top 14 entertainers Clermont will be out for revenge after their agonising 19-15 semi-final reverse to the eventual champions while Scarlets have already introduced themselves to Schmidt's men with a thumping 45-20 win on the opening day.

Exeter Chiefs would have been hoping for a kinder draw in their debut campaign but the West Country boys will be seeing this as the perfect opportunity to bruise some egos.

Prediction: Leinster, with Clermont also qualifying

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Leinster 8/11 ,Clermont 13/8, Scarlets 9/1, Exeter 20/1

Pool Six: Toulon, Montpellier, Cardiff, Sale

Two teams from the same nation will battle it out in Pool Six after French duo Toulon and Montpellier were paired together alongside Cardiff Blues and Sale Sharks.

Toulon: Placed in Pool Six

Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon have started 2012-13 in ominous form, winning seven of eight Top 14 fixtures, with that solitary loss coming away in Toulouse. RCT, with Armitage brothers Delon and Steffon in their ranks, will fancy a career-best run in the competition and will be more than content with this draw. Top 14 runners-up Montpellier, Cardiff and Premiership strugglers Sale will seemingly be battling it out for Amlin Challenge Cup qualification.

Prediction: Toulon make their mark

Sky Bet Pool Odds: Toulon 1/2 , Montpellier 9/2, Cardiff 5/1, Sale 10/1

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