Heineken Cup: Miles Harrison looks at three of the big games live on Sky Sports this weekend
Miles Harrison takes a closer look at three of the big clashes as the Heineken Cup kicks off.
By Miles Harrison
Last Updated: 15/10/13 3:11pm
It is crucial that teams get off to a good start as the battle for Europe begins and Miles Harrison will be commentating on three of the biggest games this weekend.
We caught up with him to get his views on Ulster v Leicester, Ospreys v Leinster and Sunday's clash between Exeter and Cardiff Blues.
Ulster v Leicester
7pm, Fri, Sky Sports 1HD
Pool 5 is a tough one isn't it Miles - you have Ulster and Leicester with Montpellier in there too.
MILES REPLIES: Yes, it is. Montpellier are a very dangerous team in this Pool and you could make a case for them topping it - you really could. Montpellier found their European feet last season and Ulster and Leicester will be very wary of them. Therefore, getting off to a good start is imperative - it is not a Pool where you want to be making early slip-ups.
There is massive history between Ulster and Leicester, do you see that playing a part in this game?
MILES REPLIES: Well, this is a great game to kick-off the tournament and it should deliver on all accounts. When Leicester have faced Ulster away in the Heineken Cup, they have been absolutely taken apart and the Tigers will be very aware of that. The Leicester club, as an entity, has been hurt hard by Ulster - yes, we have to go back to Dean Richards' time for the first one and maybe you can cancel that one out but the last time was in January 2012 and current players will still be hurting. And, once again, Ulster will be looking to make Ravenhill a tough place to go for the Tigers. As I say, it promises much.
Ruan Pienaar rejected a bid from Toulon to re-sign for Ulster, what does that say about the ethos of this club?
MILES REPLIES: It is great news for the club that he has decided his future lies with Ulster - it is a massive boost for them. He has been such a big player for them in recent times and a real standard setter amongst the group. Obviously Pienaar's just come back from the Rugby Championship so it is going to be a difficult week for him to immediately reintegrate into the set-up. But, they have other options at scrum-half - Paul Marshall is a fine player and, of course, got the bonus point try when Ulster beat Leicester in the last home outing.
How key is Paddy Jackson for Ulster?
MILES REPLIES: Well they have great faith in Pienaar and they have great faith in Jackson, too. Ulster skipper Johan Muller said earlier this week that they see him as one of the leaders in the side. They will try and protect him because he is still a young man and he has been thrown in the deep end over the last couple of seasons - but he's been thrown in because he has a lot of talent. They will undoubtedly see the Pienaar/Jackson combination as one that should take them a long way in this competition.
How do you see this one going?
MILES REPLIES: Ulster are the home team so there is inevitably more pressure on them to walk away with the win on Friday night. As I said at the top, this is one of those Pools where only one team may get out because of the strength of the teams at home. I see Ulster as favourites on Friday because of the home factor but that does not mean it would be all over for Leicester if that did happen. This Pool is going to the wire.
Ospreys v Leinster
6pm, Sat, Sky Sports 2HD
Have you ever seen a tougher pool in the Heineken Cup?
MILES REPLIES: This is just an unbelievable Pool! I really cannot see two teams coming out of this one - there are going to be knockout blows all over the place. You have the French champions in there, Northampton who were finalists a couple of years ago and who have made some big signings. Leinster with all their Heineken Cup pedigree and then the Ospreys who Stuart Barnes has tipped for glory this season!
Talking about the Ospreys, they have flattered to deceive in recent years; do you think this year will be different?
MILES REPLIES: They know that in recent years they should have done better, especially with the players they have had - Shane Williams, James Hook, Mike Phillips etc. - all who are no longer there. But, they are still a good team. Steve Tandy is building a strong reputation as a coach and has got his players delivering for the club this season. Last week's slip against Ulster was annoying but there are plenty of Lions in this squad and plenty of talent too - they could go a long way as Stuart has hinted but this is a Pool where you have to get a good start. If you don't then you will find yourself really hemmed in. The Ospreys have a very good record against Leinster and because of that I think Leinster will be genuinely worried about this game.
There is plenty of pressure on Leinster and their new coach Matt O'Connor too though?
MILES REPLIES: Joe Schmidt is a big hole to fill but Matt O'Connor comes from a very solid base at Leicester where he was the Head Coach during some very successful times. It takes time for a new coach to come in and get his systems up and running but I think heading into Europe will bring the best out of Matt O'Connor and his team. Europe means so much to Leinster. I saw them play recently and every time they got the ball they looked like scoring - that was always the hallmark of a Leinster team. If they can bring more of that to the European campaign then, despite all these great teams in this Pool, Leinster might well still be the team to beat.
Exeter v Cardiff
12.45pm, Sun, Sky Sports 2HD
Cardiff are battling a little bit in the Rabo Direcet Pro 12 aren't they?
MILES REPLIES: They are in a phase of redevelopment but they did have a good win against Edinburgh where they played some really attractive rugby and will go into this game with building confidence. I was fascinated by Sam Warburton's comments this week - he is making it clear that he would love to stay at Cardiff if the offer is the right one and one of the reasons why he wants to stay is that he can see the young talent that is coming through and believes in two or three years' time they will be serious contenders. They are in a tough Pool with Toulon, Glasgow and Exeter but they will be looking to move in the right direction to bring this talent through. Maybe, it won't be qualification this year but I do expect the Blues to certainly improve on last year's European performance.
The same could be said for Exeter then Miles - using their second season in Europe as a learning curve and to develop their youngsters?
MILES REPLIES: They were terrific last season - they nearly beat Leinster in the opening game and gave them a run for their money in the final game of the Pool. They got two excellent wins against the Scarlets - okay Clermont Auvergne did give them a lesson but it was their first season. A year on they had added to their player base although they have got quite a casualty list - when they are all back they are going to have some genuine selection issues in virtually every position. It is a testament to Rob Baxter how he manages and grows this side and you know they are not going to take a step backwards. Part of their development is to get more than the two wins against the Scarlets - even if this is a tough Pool. Knowing the Chiefs and what they are all about, they will take a step forward in Europe - they are a progressive club. Toulon and Glasgow are both setting the pace in their domestic competitions and will be tough to down but they will not always have it all their own in this Pool I'm sure.
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