The draw for the 2008/09 Heineken Cup tournament was made in Dublin on Tuesday morning, with Leinster, reigning champions Munster and former winners Ulster all learning who they have been paired with in the pool stages.
The draw for the make-up of the pools for the 14th season of the Heineken Cup was made at Dublin’s Ballsbridge Court Hotel on Tuesday morning.
The draw was conducted using the new merit-based ERC European Ranking system based on the qualified teams’ performances over the past four seasons in the Heineken Cup and knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup.
The 24 teams who have qualified for the 2008/09 competition were graded into four tiers of six teams each with each of the six pools having one team from each of the four tier levels.
Munster, the reigning champions and the number one-ranked team, were placed in Pool 1 along with familiar rivals Sale Sharks and ASM Clermont Auvergne, while the fourth team included, Montauban, are newcomers to the tournament.
Montauban secured France’s seventh spot in the Heineken Cup with a 24-17 win over Albi last weekend.
Munster fans will long remember their side’s 31-9 pool win over Sale when the sides clashed at the old Thomond Park in the 2005/06 competition. Munster lost away to Sale in that season’s competition, as they did against Clermont Auvergne in last season’s pool stages after beating the French outfit 36-13 in Limerick.
Munster team manager Shaun Payne said: “There is not an easy pool anywhere and perhaps we are in one of the more difficult ones. Getting two French teams was a bit of a stinger.”
Hoping to build further on this season’s Magners League triumph, Leinster have been pitted in Pool 2 with London Wasps, Castres Olympique (new opponents) and regular foes Edinburgh.
Leinster seem surgically attached to Edinburgh when it comes to Heineken Cup draws – this is the third successive year the teams have been placed together in the same pool.
Leinster played pool matches against Edinburgh in the 2000/01, 2006/07 and 2007/08 competitions – their 29-10 loss at Murrayfield last December effectively ended the province’s hopes of making the quarter-finals.
Indeed, Leinster have never beaten Edinburgh away in the Heineken Cup and they also lost 35-13 to London Wasps in the 2007 quarter-finals, so revenge will definitely be on the minds of Michael Cheika’s men next term.
Ulster’s will have a tough path through the quarter-finals next season if they are to make the tournament’s last-eight for the first time since they so memorably lifted the trophy in 1999.
Matt Williams’ side will have to contend with Stade Francais, Llanelli Scarlets and Harlequins in Pool 4.
The Ulstermen have recent history with Llanelli – they lost twice to the Welsh region in the pool stages of the 2006/07 Heineken Cup. They have also been in regular combat with Stade Francais over the years but Harlequins are new opponents for them.
Ulster have a very respectable record against Stade Francais, having secured four home wins and three away defeats. The first of those successes was that epic semi-final success at Ravenhill back in January 1999, when stand-in captain David Humphreys scored a superb try.
The sides’ most recent meeting – in Belfast in December 2004 – ended in an 18-10 for Ulster, who were helped on their way that day by another excellent individual try by Kieran Campbell.
Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that the draw for the 2008/09 European Challenge Cup will take place next Monday (June 23). Connacht will be competing in the tournament for the 13th year.
2008/09 HEINEKEN CUP POOL DRAW:
POOL 1 –
MUNSTER (Ireland), Sale Sharks (England), ASM Clermont Auvergne (France), Montauban (France)
POOL 2 –
London Wasps (England), LEINSTER (Ireland), Castres Olympique (France), Edinburgh (Scotland)
POOL 3 –
Leicester Tigers (England), Perpignan (France), Ospreys (Wales), Benetton Treviso (Italy)
POOL 4 –
Stade Francais Paris (France), Llanelli Scarlets (Wales), ULSTER (Ireland), Harlequins (England)
POOL 5 –
Toulouse (France), Bath (England), Newport Gwent Dragons (Wales), Glasgow Warriors (Scotland)
POOL 6 –
Biarritz (France), Gloucester (England), Cardiff Blues (Wales), Calvisano (Italy)
2008/09 HEINEKEN CUP SEASON PLAN:
MATCH DATES –
ROUND 1 – October 10/11/12
ROUND 2 – October 17/18/19
ROUND 3 – December 5/6/7
ROUND 4 – December 12/13/14
ROUND 5 – January 16/17/18, 2009
ROUND 6 – January 23/24/25
QUARTER-FINALS – April 10/11/12
SEMI-FINALS – May 1/2/3
FINAL – EDINBURGH 2009 – May 23/24