The draws for the 2015/16 European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments were made today in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The four provinces have provided reaction to their own pools.
2015/16 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP –
POOL 1: Saracens, ULSTER, Toulouse, Oyonnax
Ulster Team Manager Bryn Cunningham: “I’m excited about it. It is a tough pool but every group in the Champions Cup is difficult. Toulouse and Saracens are two of the most famous names in European Rugby and Oyonnax will be a new challenge.
“However, having said that, there is no side in there that we are not capable of beating. We do need to manage resources with it being a World Cup year, but we have real quality in our squad and in Kingspan Stadium we have one of the best grounds in Europe with passionate supporters that are second to none.
“I know that the Ulster fans will roar the team on in these games and with a bit of luck, I am confident that we can go well in the Champions Cup next season.”
POOL 4: Stade Francais, MUNSTER, Leicester Tigers, Benetton Treviso
Munster Head Coach Anthony Foley: “There’s quality right across our pool again next season. We now have to prepare for the reigning Top 14 champions. Clermont taught us a lesson on just how formidable the Top 14 sides are in Europe, both home and away, last season and again we’ll have our work cut out for us with Stade Francais. It’s a long time coming, I think it’s over ten years since we have met in Europe and they will be two massive games.
“Leicester Tigers are a team that we know well from the old Heineken Cup, we’ve shared some big occasions together although it has been a number of years since we’ve gone to battle in competition. They’ll travel to Thomond Park knowing that the last time they played there (in 2007) they became the first visiting side to beat us at Thomond in European competition. It’s up to us to rise to the occasion both home and away.
“Treviso are the side we’re most familiar with of late. Both sides know each other well and will prepare accordingly and it will be another physical and bruising encounter. It’s been a number of years since we have faced off in Europe. Since then we’ve seen first-hand in the PRO12 how they’ve improved, running Leinster and Ulster very close and putting three tries on us in Cork last season. We can’t afford to do the same against them in Europe.
“I’m delighted for our fans too that they have three massive home ties to look forward to. Last season Thomond wasn’t quite the fortress they had become accustomed to, so that will serve as a good motivation for us to put that right.
“And it’s not just at home, we know how wonderful and dedicated our travelling supporters are so we hope to give them something to shout about on the road also.
“Meritocracy has meant that not only are the domestic leagues extremely competitive, but teams enter European competition battle-hardened. That, combined with it being the premier tournament for European clubs, will make it another hugely competitive contest again next season.”
POOL 5: Bath, Toulon, LEINSTER, Wasps
Leinster Captain Jamie Heaslip: “Like most of the lads, I was glued to the laptop this afternoon. As much as you look forward to the off-season, it isn’t long before you start looking towards critical dates and I suppose from a Leinster point of view that first date was today and the draw for the Champions Cup.
“In many ways it is hard to even visualise the Champions Cup and the pool games as November is so far away. I very much stay in the moment and focus on the next game or the next challenge and I suppose there is so much rugby to be played between now and then.
“But we are due back for pre-season two weeks today and the thoughts of Toulon, Bath and Wasps will focus the minds on the work ahead for all of the lads and the schedule that Leo (Cullen) and (head of fitness) Dan (Tobin) have set out for us.
“Obviously there will be the hype around Paulie (O’Connell) and his return to take on an Irish team but leaving Paul aside, Toulon are a formidable outfit and have recruited really well once again.
“To come up against another two of last season’s opponents is unique I suppose, but in the same way as with Castres last season, you have to take each game on its merits. Bath finished out the year very well and on another day could have been in Tier 1 as Premiership winners, while Wasps were the leading try scorers in the Premiership. We’ll also be coming up against Jimmy (Gopperth) and Brendan (Macken), so that’s another tie where there will be plenty of interest.”
2015/16 EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP –
POOL 1: CONNACHT, Brive, Newcastle Falcons, Enisei STM
Connacht Head Coach Pat Lam: “We’re looking forward to the Challenge Cup next year and we’re happy with today’s draw. The Challenge Cup is massive now because the winners automatically gets into the Champions Cup. What’s important is to not only get through the pool, but to be seeded as high as possible, so you get a home quarter and semi-final.
“We’re happy with the pool. For me personally, it’s a return to the Newcastle Falcons which I’m excited about. They were the first team I played for when I moved to Europe in the late 1990s.
“In France it’s against Brive, past Heineken Cup winners, which will be good for us. And finally to Enisei STM, which is going to be an exciting trip to Russia.”