London Irish head coach Toby Booth has termed it the ‘group of death’, and there is no denying that Pool 3 of next season’s Heineken Cup, containing Munster, the Ospreys, London Irish and Toulon, will give sides little room to breathe.
Two-time champions Munster are top seeds in Pool 3 and know that recent Magners League winners, the Ospreys, the Bob Casey-led London Irish and Toulon, who reached the Amlin Challenge Cup final this past season, will all be gunning for them.
But the road to Cardiff is a familiar one for the province. There have been three Heineken Cup finals held at the Millennium Stadium and Munster have appeared in all three – famously winning the title there in 2006 and 2008.
Their captain from that maiden win in 2006, former number 8 Anthony Foley, is now their defence coach and ‘A’ team coach.
Giving his take on the task facing Munster in next season’s pool stages, Foley said: “The Millennium Stadium looks a long way off at this stage and the draw hasn’t been kind to us.
“But what we’ve learned down the years at Munster is that you have to earn the right to reach a Heineken Cup final and that the winners invariably emerge from the strongest pools.
“Everyone is going to be excited at the prospect of seeing the match-ups in our pool, but it is only one of a few tasty ones that emerged from the draw. Hopefully we can scratch our way out of the pool and into the knock-out stages.
“We’ve had many nasty pools in the past and managed to pull through and we’ll be calling for the same effort again next season.”
Tony McGahan’s men had to dig deep to qualify from Pool 1 this past season, making it an incredible 12 years on the trot that Munster have qualified for the knockout stages of European rugby’s premier competition.
They did so by achieving doubles over Perpignan, the then French champions, and Benetton Treviso, while they finished the pool stages with a gritty 12-9 defeat of Northampton Saints at Thomond Park.
Munster’s record in France is an enviable one, and their pre-Christmas victory at Perpignan was one of the Irish highlights of the 2009/10 tournament.
“We are used to playing big games away from home, especially in France. In fact, we have a better record in France than we have in Spain,” added Foley, who watched Munster fall to Biarritz Olympique in San Sebastien in last month’s semi-final.
“London Irish took their big game against Leinster to Twickenham last season and it will be interesting to see if they look to do that again when we travel to meet them. Whichever way you look at this pool, it is massive.
“We know the Ospreys very well from the Magners League and we certainly know about Toulon’s director of rugby, Philippe Saint-Andre, from his days with Gloucester and Sale Sharks.”
Related Links –