Munster team manager Shaun Payne will take nothing for granted when his side defend their European crown next season. Read on for reaction to the Heineken Cup draw from Payne and Munster Chief Executive Garrett Fitzgerald.
Shaun Payne watched on at the draw venue, Ballsbridge Court Hotel in Dublin, as Munster were drawn in Pool 1 with French championship finalists ASM Clermont Auverge, two-time European Challenge Cup winners Sale Sharks and Heineken Cup newcomers Montauban.
And despite their number 1 European ranking, Payne says that his team find themselves in one of the trickier pools to progress from.
“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,” he admitted.
“Of course, we know Clermont Auvergne very well following last season. They are going to be immense games, both home and away.
“There is a lot of history between ourselves and Sale Sharks, while Montauban are an unknown quantity. We will have to do a lot of homework on them.”
Reigning champions Munster met Clermont Auvergne in the pool stages last season, winning at home and gaining a losing bonus point away.
They also lost to Sale Sharks in the opening pool match of the 2005/06 competition, although they triumphed in the return match. In both years the Heineken Cup found its way to Munster despite those pool defeats.
Speaking after the draw’s conclusion, Munster Chief Executive Garrett Fitzgerald proclaimed that he didn’t think the draw ‘was a very good reward for winning the competition last season.’
“I think it’s a very difficult pool for us. It’s unusual to have two French teams in it, it’s something we haven’t come across before. But they are the challenges of winning it (again) and we’ll be looking forward to it.”
Running though the province’s Pool 1 opponents one by one, Fitzgerald added: “During the years that I have been watching Heineken Cup rugby and attending games, Clermont are as good a side that I have seen in the competition.
“We considered ourselves very lucky to get a (losing bonus) point out of our visit to Clermont last season.
“It probably was a point that wasn’t on the cards at half-time and it’s one that the squad look back on as a reason maybe why we won the competition.
“Clermont, certainly, are an outstanding team. I genuinely feel that they have the ability to win the French championship and we’ll be watching that closely.
“Drawing Sale, it’s interesting now as there’s a huge French interest at Sale. So we’ve got two French teams and also there’s the French influence at Sale.
“Sale are a very good side. They’ve some very good players and have signed new ones for next year.
“Montauban are a side that I do not know an awful lot about but my contacts in France have been following them and I believe that they have two young and very good coaches.
“They’re an ambitious club and it’s a new venue for us to visit. But I was hoping that one visit to France would have been enough.”