Heineken Cup: Northampton drawn with Munster & Castres
Holders Leinster will start out against Bath, Glasgow and Montpellier after pools are announced
The pools for next season’s Heineken Cup have been announced, with defending champions Leinster starting out against Bath, Glasgow and Montpellier in the group stages.
Northampton, last season’s runners-up, have been handed a testing pool with another of Ireland’s more successful provinces in Europe.
They will face two-time winners Munster, the Scarlets – semi-finalists in 2007 and Castres who finished third in this year’s Top 14.
“The tournament is getting tougher each year,” said the Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder.
“We have a challenging pool and we know first hand how difficult it will be, having played Munster and Castres in the last couple of seasons. It will show how much we have learned from our experiences in that time.”
Seven clubs representing England, more than any other nation, will be looking to break the mold and win the tournament for the first time in four years.
Wasps, who are the last Aviva Premiership side to win Europe’s elite club competition, will not feature as they finished ninth in the league.
Amlin Challenge Cup champions Harlequins, who pipped Stade Francais to qualification by winning a thrilling encounter 19-18 at the Cardiff City stadium, will face Europe’s most decorated side Toulouse, new-comers Connacht and Premiership rivals Gloucester.
Full-back Mike Brown is convinced an English side will win this year’s Heineken Cup, taking inspiration from the Saints’ campaign. “I believe an English club can go on and win it. Northampton were really close,” he said.
“It’s about turning up on the day and playing to the best of your ability. Any club from England in this competition is capable of winning it.”
Quins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea added: “This is what the players and supporters wanted – to be back in the Heineken Cup and playing against the best teams.
“Toulouse are the aristocrats of European rugby, they boast the best record of any side in the tournament and it will be fantastic to face them again.”
The tournament will start a month later this year in November, because of the World Cup in New Zealand finishing in October. The final will be held at Twickeham on the third weekend in May 2012.
Heineken Cup draw in full
Pool 1: Munster, Northampton, Scarlets, Castres
Pool 2: Cardiff, London Irish, Edinburgh, Racing Metro
Pool 3: Leinster, Bath, Glasgow, Montpellier
Pool 4: Leicester, Clermont, Ulster, Aironi
Pool 5: Biarritz, Ospreys, Saracens, Benetton Treviso
Pool 6: Toulouse, Harlequins, Gloucester, Connacht