Ma’a Nonu – Toulon
The All Black’s bulldozer in chief, Ma’a Nonu is likely to light up this season’s competition with his aggressive running and never say die attitude. Having come straight from a World Cup winning side, he should feel right at home settling down in a Toulon team packed with international stars, and with three successive European titles under their belts. Not that Toulon displayed many weaknesses last season, but Nonu will offer far more than Mathieu Bastareaud and if he can form an effective partnership with Matt Giteau, another trophy could well be on the cards.
Adam Ashley-Cooper – Bordeaux Begles
Another Southern superstar, Adam Ashley-Cooper has joined the Bordeaux Begles this season, who will look to utilise his experience and attacking nous to get out of Pool 2. Although never blessed with blistering pace, Ashley-Cooper is a player who appears to have an infinite amount of time on the ball, always being one step ahead of the opposition. Bordeaux will need to utilise his vast experience if they are to emerge from a Pool that also contains Clermont, Exeter and the Ospreys; with Ashley-Cooper one of only two world class players (alongside Sekope Kepu) in the squad.
Charles Piutau – Wasps
Deadly, and yet overlooked by the All Blacks, Charles Piutau will bolster an already lethal Wasps back line having joined from the Blues. Capable of running scything attacking lines to match his impressive offloading and tackling ability, he will be vital for Wasps’ chances in a nastily difficult Pool 5. Likely to be utilised at full-back, he will offer Wasps an effective running option from deep and will not hesitate to move into the attacking line when required. He should fit perfectly into the Wasps pattern of pacey outside backs serving alongside solid, kicking centres. Linking up with former Blues teammate Frank Halai should also lead to devastating attacking interplay between the two.
DTH van der Merwe – Scarlets
Often unheralded within the rugby world, van der Merwe is a born-finisher, possessed of unexpected acceleration and an uncanny ability to make it over the whitewash. Having scored four tries in as many games at the Rugby World Cup, he is in a rich vein of form and should be able to exploit Northampton’s defensive weaknesses this weekend. Never absent during a game, he should transform the one-dimensional Scarlets back line of recent years into a palpable attacking threat. Racing, Glasgow and the Saints should take note.
The du Plessis brothers – Montpellier
Fresh from their third-place finish at the World Cup, South Africa’s hardest siblings will be looking to put that disappointment behind them and crush the opposition in Pool 3. They should fit nicely into a star-studded team also comprising Nic White, Ben Mowen and Francois Trinh-Duc and will crucially add the forward ballast needed to sustain a charge in this year’s competition. With Harlequins, Cardiff Blues and Calvisano rounding out the pool, it will be interesting to see if Montpellier can throw off their indifferent early season form and unleash the South African power within.
Colin Slade – Pau
As a twice World Cup winner and invaluable utility back, Colin Slade will offer an extra dimension to Pau’s title ambitions in a tricky Pool 2. With unexpected pace and accurate kicking from hand and off the floor, his ability to run a game from 10 will ensure Pau offer a coherent attacking threat and could help the southerners to be the first French team to claim the title since 2012. With All Black team mate Conrad Smith also lining up behind the scrum, this Pau team could easily take their more illustrious opponents by surprise with a deadly combination formed between two of the world’s form backs.
Robbie Henshaw – Connacht
Perceived by many as Brian O’Driscoll’s natural successor, Robbie Henshaw offers something different in a workmanlike Connacht team. Capable of running brilliant lines and masterful when counter-attacking, he’s a key part of Connacht’s surprise factor, something that has seen the likes of Toulouse fall to the Galwegians in recent years. Although used at centre by the Irish national team, his regular selection by Pat Lam at full-back offers a separate attacking threat from deep and considering the team’s early season form in his absence, it could be Henshaw who provides that extra 5 per cent that takes Connacht to the title.
Ben Marvell – Sport Team