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O’Connell: A Tough Draw As Expected

O’Connell: A Tough Draw As Expected

Taking time out from his preparations for the British & Irish Lions’ midweek clash with the Sharks, Munster captain Paul O’Connell gave his reaction to the province’s draw for next season’s Heineken Cup pool stages.

Pitted in a real group of champion sides, Munster will not have things easy as they try to reach the Heineken Cup quarter-finals for the 12th straight year.

Newly-crowned French champions Perpignan, the recent European Challenge Cup winners Northampton Saints and Italian outfit Benetton Treviso, fresh from their Super 10 title-winning campaign, will provide Munster’s opposition in Pool 1.

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Tuesday’s draw in Paris, made by ERC’s Jean-Pierre Lux and Derek McGrath, threw up some mouth-watering pairings and Pool 1 boasts two former Heineken Cup champions in Northampton and Munster and past finalists in Perpignan.

Of course, Northampton’s only Heineken Cup triumph came against Munster in the 2000 final at Twickenham and interestingly the sides have not met competitively since then.

Munster beat Perpignan 19-10 at the quarter-final stage back in 2006 on the way to lifting the trophy for the first time.

They were also pitted together in the 2002/03 pool stages, with Munster winning 30-21 at Thomond Park and Perpignan taking their home leg 23-8.

Treviso were pool rivals for Munster in 2003/04. Munster beat the Italians home and away back then – 51-0 and 31-20 – but they are certain to provide a much stiffer challenge next season.

Speaking from Durban where he is in camp with the Lions, Paul O’Connell said: “It’s a standard Munster draw, we generally draw some of the top teams in the competitions.

“We’ve Perpignan, the French champions, who have probably one of the biggest budgets in the whole of French rugby.

“It’s typical of a Munster draw, it’s going to be incredibly hard to come out of that group.

“Northampton Saints, they’ve just won the Challenge Cup final and they’ve invested heavily, signed a lot of players.

“It’s the first time we’ve had an Italian team in a long time, the Italian champions. It’s a very tough draw, as usual.”

Will the big lock, who captained Munster to Magners League glory this season, be using the revenge factor from that 2000 final defeat when the Reds meet Northampton?

“Ah, that’s a long time ago. I don’t know how many players remain from then. We’ve probably Wally (David Wallace), (Ronan) O’Gara, (Peter) Stringer, a few others hanging on.

“But I suppose you bring everything you can to a game and that’ll probably be one of the things we’ll be bringing to it.”