Munster director of rugby Rassie Erasmus has given his thoughts following today’s Champions Cup pool draw which has pitted Munster once again with Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers, as well as French club Castres Olympique.
The South African may be heading into just his second Champions Cup campaign, but he is already well versed in two of next season’s pool opponents. As recently as last season Munster saw off the challenge of Racing 92 and Leicester to top Pool 1 of the competition. Still, however, little separates the sides.
Munster avenged back-to-back defeats to Leicester in 2015 with a 38-0 drubbing at Thomond Park in December, but Tigers rallied a week later to hand Rassie Erasmus’ men an agonising 18-16 defeat – Owen Williams’ last-minute penalty ending the province’s seven-game unbeaten run.
And while Leicester may have exited Europe at the pool stages, they will garner much belief from a strong end to the domestic season where they reached the Aviva Premiership play-offs and lost by just a single point to Wasps in the semi-final.
The same can be said of Racing 92 who reached the last-four of the Top 14 after a lacklustre opening half to the season. Enduring somewhat of a rugby hangover off the back of a Top 14 title and a Champions Cup final defeat, Ronan O’Gara’s side succumbed to Munster in both Paris and Limerick but will be a far different proposition next season. Along with the continued guidance of O’Gara, the Paris outfit will also have Donnacha Ryan in toe, and will be all the wiser for their Thomond Park experience in January.
Not since 2011/12 have Munster shared a pool with Castres Olympique. Like Racing, Christophe Urios’ men also made the knockout stages of the Top 14 and will prove a formidable outfit, especially at Stade Pierre-Antoine where they suffered just two defeats across European and domestic competition last season.
Speaking following today’s draw which took place in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Erasmus made note of the quality throughout Pool 4 and the challenge that lies in store come the return of European action in October.
“When you play in this competition, you are facing the best of the best. The Champions Cup remains the ultimate accolade in Europe, and no matter who you draw, it’s always going to be tough,” he said.
“In the past nine or ten months I have seen first-hand the quality and competitiveness of the GUINNESS PRO12 and Europe is no different. It probably sounds clichéd, but there is no such thing as an easy game. Take us for example, like I said last year, we would have been seen as the easy draw, instead our guys topped their pool and reach the semi-final. Anything can happen in cup rugby and that’s the challenge everyone faces.
“Playing two of the three pool sides for consecutive seasons will be a real test of how far ourselves, Leicester and Racing have come in a year. While delighted to do so well in last season’s competition, we know that we have much to work on all three sides will pose a massive challenge.
“For the supporters I’m glad that once again we can look forward to three massive pool games in Thomond Park against quality French and English opposition.”