The general perception among the Ireland players in Dunedin when the Heineken Cup draw was announced was that champions Leicester have the easiest draw although Dean Richards disagrees.
The defending champions will be up against newcomers Beziers, Welsh side Neath and the traditional whipping boys of the competition, Calvisano.
Tigers coach Dean Richards was diplomacy itself when he said
As usual, the Heineken Cup will extend us all the way. It is the premier club competition in the northern hemisphere – if not the world – and we very much look forward to defending our title.
Beziers may be new to the tournament but we know they will be extremely difficult to beat, especially at home, and Neath are going through a real resurgence. If they play to their full capability, they are able to beat anyone.
Richards couldn’t find anything to say about the Italians while his contention that the competition was perhaps the best in the world would be given little credence in this land of the Super 12. And perhaps rightly so.
Munster’s Joihn Kelly was “happy enough with the draw although the last time we went tp Perpignan we were hammered and Gloucester will be tough too. I don’t know too much about the Italians.”
Leinster flanker Keith Gleeson, like Kelly had the first Test on his mind and originally believed that they had London Irish in their group.”We thought we had London Irish and that would have been a marvellous fixture from a spectator pooint of view. Maybe we’re better off with Bristol, but they’ll all be tough. Ther’s nothing easy about this competition. But that said, Leicester must be delighted with the draw.
Even at this stage the Tigers are long odds-on to gain a home qaurter final tie.
The composition of the six Pools of four teams was announced by ERC (European Rugby Cup Ltd), the tournament organizers on Thursday (13th June). The fixtures will be announced in Lyon on Thursday, 27 June, at a meeting of representatives from the 24 competing teams.
This season all the knock-out stages will be played after the conclusion of the Six Nations Championship, starting with the quarter-finals on the second weekend of April and with the final being played on 24 May, 2003.
Pool 1: Leicester Tigers, Amatori & Calvisano, Neath, Beziers.
POOL 2: Viadana, Munster, Gloucester, Perpignan.
POOL 3: Llanelli, Glasgow Rugby, Sale Sharks, Bourgoin.<[> POOL 4: Leinster, Montferrand Bristol Shoguns, Swansea.
POOL 5: Edinburgh Rugby, Toulouse, Newport, London Irish.
POOL 6: Biarritz Olympique, Ulster, Cardiff, Northampton Saints.