Jump to main content


Champions Cup Draw Made For Next Season

Champions Cup Draw Made For Next Season

Some stiff challenges await the four provinces in next season’s European Champions Cup following today’s draw for the 2016/17 pool stages.

The much-anticipated draw for the Champions Cup pools Champions Cup took place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland this afternoon. The event was compered by Alex Payne (Sky Sports) and Matthieu Lartot (France Télévisions) with Dimitri Yachvili (beIN Sports) and Ieuan Evans (Sky Sports) conducting the draw.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

Reigning GUINNESS PRO12 champions Connacht have three familiar opponents in Pool 2. They played Wasps in two pre-season friendlies in 2013 and 2014, entertained Toulouse in both the 2011/12 and 2013/14 Heineken Cups, and also come up against Zebre every year at league level.

Notably, three of those teams – Wasps being the odd ones out – were drawn together in Pool 3 during Connacht’s last Heineken Cup campaign three seasons ago. The westerners famously beat Toulouse 16-14 at Stade Ernest Wallon and did the double on Zebre in what was Pat Lam’s first season at the helm.

Giving his reaction to today’s draw, Connacht head coach Lam said: “Firstly, it was just fantastic to have been part of the draw and to have earned the right to be there. We’re excited by who was drawn in our pool.

“Zebre who we play year on year in the PRO12 and who we have met in Europe before are always a tough challenge for us and we want to maintain our record against them. With Wasps and Toulouse we have two previous winners in Europe so that sets up a great challenge for us.

“Champions Cup is the ultimate in northern Hemisphere rugby. It’s great to be a part of it and like I said, to have earned the right to be there. We certainly will back ourselves to prepare well and the aim for us is to reach the knockout stages of the competition.”

Munster, who were in the last of the four tiers, were placed in a heavyweight Pool 1 alongside newly-crowned French champions Racing 92, 2014/15 PRO12 winners Glasgow Warriors and Leicester Tigers, who lifted the Heineken Cup in 2001 and 2002.

Of course, there will be huge interest in the visit of Racing to Thomond Park as Munster legend Ronan O’Gara is kicking, skills and defence coach with the Parisian outfit. Munster will be out for revenge against Leicester, who claimed back-to-back wins last December – 31-19 in Limerick and 17-6 at Welford Road – on the way to topping the pool table.

Munster team manager Niall O’Donovan said: “Looking at the three sides they have all experienced Thomond Park before and will have no fear coming over to us, and of course Racing Metro with the Ronan O’Gara influence, he will have them well briefed on us. They are the French club champions for a reason and they don’t come bigger than that.

“As always our European journey is hugely exciting for the squad and our supporters and although we haven’t achieved what we wanted in the last two seasons, our supporters have always stood by us – whether it’s France, Italy, England or Thomond Park they turn out in huge numbers and get behind the team.

“We’ll treat our campaign no different to previous seasons and take it round by round, and while getting through the pool stages is always a massive challenge we need to ensure we put in a performance on each occasion.”

Leo Cullen’s Leinster will also have French and English opposition to overcome in Pool 4 next season, with Montpellier, Northampton Saints and Castres Olympique completing a high quality foursome.

The province have recent history with all three teams – they were unbeaten against Montpellier in two pool games on the way to being crowned European champions in 2011/12, won away and lost at home to Northampton in 2013/14 and did the double on Castes two seasons ago.

Assessing Leinster’s pool opponents, head coach Cullen said: “Montpellier are a team that have invested heavily since then. I played in both games (against them) and we were lucky to come out of there with a draw early in the competition.

“Under Jake White they have pumped huge resources into the club and have recruited heavily with a big South African flavour to their squad and a hell of a lot of international experience across the board so they are going to be a huge threat to us.

“We have a bit of history with Northampton as obviously the Heineken Cup final win in 2011 was against them and then the 2013/14 pool games subsequent to that. They have a lot of experience of competing at the top end of Europe and a lot of experience across their squad in those key leadership positions which is replicated in the English team.

“Castres have been on a bit of a roller-coaster the last few years. They won the Top 14, reached another final after that but then had a tough season and we played them in Europe that year and managed to get the better of them. But they have hit back impressively and are now back in the Champions Cup. They have recruited really well and have an excellent coaching team.” 

Finally, Ulster have a mix of old and new in Pool 5. There will be some familiar faces visiting Kingspan Stadium when Exeter Chiefs, who include Ulstermen Gareth Steenson and Ian Whitten, make the trip across.

Led by out-half Steenson, Exeter were Aviva Premiership runners-up and Champions Cup quarter-finalists last season, while there could be another tasty number 10 duel when Ulster play Bordeaux-Begles, the new club of Paddy Jackson’s Ireland team-mate Ian Madigan. Ulster will also meet Clermont Auvergne for the first time since the 2011/12 campaign when they won at home (16-11) and lost by a similar margin in France (19-15).

Ulster director of rugby Les Kiss commented: “It is a difficult pool, for sure. But we were expecting that because it’s a really tough competition. The three teams will pose great challenges but it’s something we’re excited about. All teams in the pool like to play an attractive brand of rugby, so it should be good to watch from a supporter’s perspective as well.”


POOL 1 – Racing 92, Glasgow Warriors, Leicester Tigers, MUNSTER

POOL 2 – CONNACHT, Wasps, Toulouse, Zebre

POOL 3 – Saracens, Toulon, Scarlets, Sale Sharks

POOL 4 – LEINSTER, Montpellier, Northampton Saints, Castres Olympique

POOL 5 – Exeter Chiefs, Clermont Auvergne, ULSTER, Bordeaux-Begles


Round 1: October 13/14/15/16
Round 2: October 20/21/22/23
Round 3: December 8/9/10/11
Round 4: December 15/16/17/18
Round 5: January 12/13/14/15
Round 6: January 19/20/21/22

Quarter-Finals: 30/31 March 30/31-April 1/2
Semi-Finals: April 21/22/23
Final: BT Murrayfield, Saturday, May 13