Monday’s draw for the 2008/09 European Challenge Cup placed Connacht in Pool 1 along with London Irish, Dax or Albi from France and Italian outfit Rugby Rovigo. Michael Bradley’s men will kickstart their European assault in October.
Connacht, who have played a record 77 European Challenge Cup matches, will be competing in the tournament for the 13th season.
ERC, the tournament organisers, today revealed the results of the draw for the composition of the five pools of four teams each.
And in a match-up that is sure to draw the crowds to both the Sportsground and the Madejski Stadium, Connacht and London Irish will go head-to-head in Pool 1.
It is a particularly interesting draw for Connacht hooker Adrian Flavin, who was a long-time London Irish player before he signed for the westerners in May 2006.
Flavin, who recently agreed a two-year contract extension, played for every team at London Irish from the Under-6s up to the seniors.
Flavin’s former London Irish team-mate Kieran Campbell, the Ulster scrum half who will make his Connacht bow in the new season, will also be intrigued by the draw.
Irish, who reached last season’s Heineken Cup semi-finals, are captained by current Ireland ‘A’ skipper Bob Casey.
The draw was conducted using the new ERC European Ranking system based on the qualified teams’ performances and participation in the Heineken Cup and knock-out stages of the European Challenge Cup over the past four seasons.
The 20 teams who qualified for the 2008/09 competition were graded into four tiers of five teams each, with each of the five pools having one team from each of the four tier levels.
Teams from the same country were kept apart in the pools with the exception of the sixth and seventh-ranked teams in France (Toulon and Stade Montois Rugby) and the sixth ranked team in England (Bristol), who could be drawn with teams from the same country.
The final team in Connacht’s pool, either Dax or Albi, will be confirmed by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, the body responsible for professional rugby in France, and the French Rugby Federation.
2008/09 EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP – POOL DRAW:
POOL 1: London Irish, CONNACHT, Dax*/Albi*, Rugby Rovigo
POOL 2: Northampton Saints, Bristol Rugby, Montpellier, Toulon
POOL 3: Bourgoin, Worcester Warriors, Petrarca Rugby, Bucuresti Oaks
POOL 4: Newcastle Falcons, Brive, Overmach Rugby Parma, Cetransa El Salvador
POOL 5: Saracens, Viadana, Bayonne, Stade Montois Rugby
*The participation of Dax*/ Albi* is subject to confirmation from the LNR and FFR
TIERS USED FOR POOL DRAW:
Tier 1: Saracens, London Irish, Northampton Saints, Newcastle Falcons, Bourgoin
Tier 2: Worcester Warriors, Brive, Bristol Rugby, CONNACHT, Viadana
Tier 3: Montpellier, Overmach Parma, Bayonne, Dax*/Albi*, Petrarca Rugby
Tier 4: Rugby Rovigo, Toulon, Stade Montois Rugby, Bucuresti Oaks, Cetransa El Salvador
2008/09 FIXTURE PLAN –
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 17/18/19, 2009
Round 6 – January 24/25/26
Quarter-Finals – April 10/11/12
Semi-Finals – May 1/2/3
European Challenge Cup Final – May 22/23/24