Rugby Champions Cup: Saracens and Tigers in ‘pool of death’
Rugby Champions Cup: Saracens and Leicester Tigers drawn in "pool of death" for inaugural competition
Aviva Premiership giants Saracens and Leicester Tigers both face a ‘pool of death’ in the inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup.
Saracens—who lost the Heineken Cup final to Toulon in May—are reunited with their semi-final opponents in that competition, Clermont Auvergne, with Munster and Sale Sharks completing Pool 1.
“We have picked up three of the best teams in Europe in our pool and looking at the rest of the tournament I think this is an even stronger draw than in previous years,” said Munster head coach Anthony Foley.
“I’m sure there are a few teams who won’t be too happy about having Munster in their pool.
“We have met them all before in Europe and I’m sure our fans will travel in big numbers to Manchester, London and Clermont. And if Saracens fancy taking our game to Wembley, then that will be fine with us.”
The Tigers face an equally taunting task in Pool 3 with familiar foes Ulster in a pool which also includes Toulon and Scarlets, but director of rugby Richard Cockerill is happy to be competing with the best clubs in Europe.
“At Leicester we always want to be competing against the best of the best and that is what the new European Rugby Champions Cup is all about,” he said.
“I’m sure the supporters are already looking forward to some big European occasions at Welford Road and some exciting trips away with the team too.”
The first draw for the new tournament was made in organiser European Professional Club Rugby’s base of Neuchâtel in Switzerland just 17 days after Toulon defeated Saracens 23-6 in the last Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.
The 20 clubs qualified on merit from the Aviva Premiership, French Top 14 and Pro12 after almost years of fallings out and negotiations over the future of European rugby.
Premiership champions Northampton Saints, who also won the Amlin Challenge Cup in May, will count themselves lucky to have avoided some of the bigger names in European rugby as they were drawn with Benetton Treviso—the only Italian club in the tournament—but will face tougher competition from Racing Metro and the Ospreys.
“It’s an awesome prospect and I can’t wait to get started,” said Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy. “The next key stage will be getting the fixture dates through, but whoever we play in the opening rounds, wherever we are playing, it’s important that we get off to a flying start.
“I genuinely can’t wait for the season to get underway now. It’s an exciting draw, with teams who play different styles of rugby, so while it’ll be challenging there’s plenty for supporters, for players, to get excited about. We’ve got a young group of players but they are fearless and will be looking forward to getting stuck into this.
Reigning Pro12 champions Leinster will fancy their chances of reaching the knock-out stages after they were drawn in Pool 2 with Top 14 runners-up Castres as well as Harlequins and London Wasps, who qualified as the 20th team after a qualification play-off with Stade Français.
“It’s a very exciting prospect to be drawn against Leinster Rugby, Castres Olympique and London Wasps in what is clearly a very competitive group in this year’s European Rugby Champions Cup,” said Harlequins head coach John Kingston.
“I think what you really want more than anything from the European competition is to face teams from other countries so you face different challenges which ultimately make you better players. To that end getting Leinster and Castres is brilliant for Harlequins.”
Pro12 runners-up Glasgow Warriors also face familiar opposition in Pool 4 as they were drawn with Montpellier, Bath and four-time Heineken Cup winners Toulouse.
“We’re really excited to be back playing against the top teams in Europe,” said Bath head coach Mike Ford. “We want to challenge ourselves against the best, and playing the likes of these teams will give us the chance to do that.
“Glasgow, Montpellier and Toulouse have all had very good seasons and will pose different threats for us to overcome. We made a lot of progress last season, and we’re looking to push on again and develop further as a squad, both in the Aviva Premiership and in Europe.”
The first round of the pool stages takes place on 17/18/19 October.
European Rugby Champions Cup pool draw
Pool 1: Saracens, Munster, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks.
Pool 2: Leinster, Castres, Harlequins, London Wasps.
Pool 3: Toulon, Leicester Tigers, Ulster, Scarlets.
Pool 4: Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier, Bath, Toulouse.
Pool 5: Northampton Saints, Racing Metro 92, Ospreys, Benetton Treviso.