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Provinces Attend European Launch In London

Provinces Attend European Launch In London

The Champions Cup and Challenge Cup are all set to fill the void left with the end of the Rugby World Cup, and the first of two launches more than whetted the appetite for the stunning rugby that lies ahead for fans across Europe.

The 14 teams from the GUINNESS PRO12 and Aviva Premiership, who will take part in the Champions Cup, sent their captains and coaches to the Twickenham Stoop for a massive media session and everyone was of the same opinion – this is going to be the most competitive season of European rugby of all-time.

Ulster are drawn in Pool 1 with Mark McCall’s Saracens, Toulouse and Oyonnax and kick off their campaign away to the French newcomers on Saturday, November 14.

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Ulster captain Rory Best, a veteran of 53 European Cup games, said: “We’ve swapped Leicester Tigers for Saracens and Toulon for Toulouse. There’s not much change there and that is what’s so good about the new format.

“By cutting four teams out of the old tournament, and removing some of the weaker teams, there are no dead rubber matches any more. Every game, every point counts.

“There always used to be one clear ‘pool of death’ in the past, but now you look across the board and I don’t think there is one pool I would want to swap with – or even one team I’d prefer to have in our pool. That’s to the credit of the competition and for the betterment of club rugby across Europe.”

Isa Nacewa, Leinster’s newly-announced skipper, is relishing being back in the blue after a two-year absence. The province launch their European campaign at home to Wasps on Sunday, November 15, with Bath and defending champions Toulon completing a heavyweight Pool 5.

“It was great to pull on a Leinster jersey again, but everything goes up a notch when the thought of Europe comes around. Having the Irish guys back from the World Cup has pushed the level up again, you quickly get the feeling that Europe is around the corner which is really good,” explained Nacewa.

“It’s awesome to be back, it didn’t take very long at all to settle back into Dublin, my wife, kids and myself drove through the Port Tunnel, came out the other side and carried on living.

“There are a few different faces around the place but it’s still great to be back. It was a very easy decision to come back, it came in the middle of a New Zealand summer, we had a few conversations but it was very easy to come back.”

Meanwhile, Munster, who have Benetton Treviso, Leicester Tigers and Stade Francais for company in Pool 4, face an opening round clash with the Italians at Thomond Park on Saturday, November 14.

With regular captain Peter O’Mahony missing the pool stages due to a knee ligament injury, Munster head coach Anthony Foley confirmed that O’Mahony’s back row colleague CJ Stander will take over the captaincy role.

“CJ has been announced as captain for the European Cup group, and that’s where we see his influence at the moment,” said Foley.

“We’ve got great influence throughout the group, we’ve got a lot of leaders. We can’t rely on one person, it’s never been the case at Munster, it’s always been a group approach, that’s always been our strength. The group must be the most important thing.

“CJ has moved over lock-stock, his wife is over here, he’s settled his life in Limerick and is enjoying it at the moment. He’s buying in and has got a great mentality and attitude around the place.

“It should be March in terms of Peter (getting back), it’s a fairly lengthy recovery. Big injuries are part of the game at the moment unfortunately. He will come back, it’s a long road but hopefully we’ll see him before the end of the season.”