CASTRES, FRANCE – Unusually, perhaps uniquely in the history of European rugby competitions, the draw for the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup has thrown up no obvious ‘Pool of Death’.
Instead, it has thrown up at least three of them…
English champions Northampton will be relatively pleased with their Pool Five lot. They face Racing Metro, Ospreys and Benetton Treviso – the only Italian side in a competition that features seven Aviva Premiership sides, seven Pro12 outfits and six Top 14 clubs.
Saints were only placed among the top-seeded teams in the draw after beating Glasgow Warriors and Castres in a pre-draw.
Toulon, who won the last Heineken Cup last month, are in a brutal-looking Pool Three, alongside Leicester, Ulster and Scarlets, while the side they beat in Cardiff, Saracens, face Munster, Clermont and a rejuvenated Sale in Pool One.
Pro 12 champions and two-time Heineken Cup winners Leinster have been reunited with Top 14 side Castres, who they faced in the pool stages of the Heineken Cup last season. Harlequins and Wasps will be doing rather more than making up the numbers in Pool Two.
Two former European champions – Bath and Toulouse line up against one another in Pool Four, which also features Glasgow Warriors and Montpellier.
In the draw for the second-tier Rugby Challenge Cup, London Irish have been drawn alongside Cardiff Blues, Grenoble and a yet-to-be-decided qualifier in one of two stand-out pools.
In the other, also set to feature a qualifier, Stade Francais, Newport Gwent Dragons and Newcastle Falcons will meet, while Edinburgh and Aviva Premiership new boys London Welsh will face Top 14 sides Bordeaux Begles and Lyon, who have been recruiting strongly.
And Gloucester’s new director of rugby David Humphreys will be madly brushing up on his knowledge of the game in Brive, Zebre and Oyonnax. If you’re looking for advice on the Top 14 sides, David…
European Rugby Champions Cup draw
Pool One: Saracens, Munster, Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks
Pool Two: Leinster, Castres, Harlequins, London Wasps
Pool Three: Toulon, Leicester Tigers, Ulster, Scarlets
Pool Four: Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier, Bath, Toulouse
Pool Five: Northampton Saints, Racing Metro, Ospreys, Benetton Treviso
European Rugby Challenge Cup draw
Pool One: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, Qualifier
Pool Two: Exeter Chiefs, Bayonne, Connacht Rugby, La Rochelle
Pool Three: Stade Francais Paris, Newport Gwent Dragons, Newcastle Falcons, Qualifier
Pool Four: Edinburgh, Bordeaux Begles, London Welsh, Lyon
Pool Five: Gloucester, Brive, Zebre, Oyonnax.