New Munster head coach Anthony Foley has a difficult path to negotiate in Pool 1 of the European Rugby Champions Cup, with the Reds facing home and away encounters with Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Sale Sharks.
EUROPEAN RUGBY CHAMPIONS CUP – POOL 1:
The fact that of the four Pool 1 teams, three were semi-finalists in European rugby’s premier competition for the last two seasons running, gives a good indication of the quality Munster will come up against in the first year of Champions Cup action.
Speaking after today’s tournament draw which took place in Neuchatel, Switzerland, Anthony Foley described the entire pool as ‘fearsome opposition’.
“We have picked up three of the best teams in Europe in our pool and looking at the rest of the tournament I think this is an even stronger draw than in previous years,” said the province’s incoming head coach.
“We have six massive games ahead of us and we will be looking forward to them all. I’m sure there are a few teams who won’t be too happy about having Munster in their pool.”
Always appreciative of the massive support Munster receive from their fans, Foley believes the ’16th man’ will have a big role to play both home and abroad in the Champions Cup.
“We have met all these teams before in Europe and I’m sure our fans will travel in big numbers to Manchester, London and Clermont. And if Saracens fancy taking our game to Wembley, then that will be fine with us.
“It’s not a decision for us, but all the players love to play in big stadia and in big games. And all the games in our pool will be big games.”
Munster born and bred, the 40-year-old is relishing the opportunity of leading his native province into this new era of European rugby and is well aware of the challenges that lie in his path.
“Having grown up at the province it is going to be a huge honour for me to coach the team next season. I certainly won’t be underestimating the size of the task, but we have a good group of players who have been around for a while.
“We want to be playing in the big finals in last few weeks of May and to do that we are going to have to stop teams scoring easy points against us. We need to rectify that, especially when it comes to playing in the Champions Cup.”
Munster were unbeaten in four Heineken Cup matches against Saracens before they lost 19-13 in a tight game at Vicarage Road in December 2012.
Of course, the Munstermen’s past victories over Sarries include an 18-16 semi-final success in Coventry back in April 2008 on the way to collecting their second European crown.
They also have recent history with Clermont Auvergne, who edged out Munster 16-10 in a memorable semi-final showdown just over 13 months ago which was Ronan O’Gara’s last outing for the province.
Before that, the teams had met in four pool matches between November 2007 and December 2008 with Munster winning their home fixtures and picking up a losing bonus point on both visits to the Stade Marcel Michelin.
The inclusion of Sale Sharks in Munster’s pool will bring back memories of Barry Murphy’s superb solo try against the English club at Thomond Park in January 2006, as well as the moment when kick receiver Sebastien Chabal was unceremoniously driven backwards by Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan.
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