Recent GUINNESS PRO12 runners-up Munster will face Racing 92 and Leicester Tigers in the pool stages of the Champions Cup for the second year running, following today’s pool draws for the EPCR tournaments in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.
Munster were drawn into Tier 1 prior to the main draw, giving them top billing in Pool 4 where they have Leicester Tigers for company for the third successive season, Racing 92 for a second year in-a-row and Castres for the first time since 2011/12.
Munster defeated Racing both home (22-10) and away (32-7) in this season’s Champions Cup, getting one over on Munster great Ronan O’Gara, who has coached at the Paris club since 2013, while it was one-all in meetings with Leicester, including a thumping 38-0 victory at Thomond Park.
Of course, with second row Donnacha Ryan making his summer move to Racing, the European clashes will afford an opportunity for the Tipperary man to make a quick return to the province’s Limerick citadel. Ryan was part of the Munster side that beat Castres 26-10 at Thomond back in January 2012, adding to their 27-24 away success which was inspired by a late O’Gara drop goal.
The Munstermen fell to eventual champions Saracens at the semi-final stage in Rassie Erasmus’ first season in charge. A safe passage through to the knockout stages will be foremost on the South African’s mind come next year.
Newly-crowned Aviva Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs are the top seeds in Leinster’s pool, with the sides last meeting in Europe in 2012/13 when the province did the double on Rob Baxter’s men – winning both home (9-6) and away (29-20).
Leo Cullen’s charges do not have to look too far back for their most recent encounters with Montpellier and Glasgow Warriors who complete the Pool 3 line-up. It was one win apiece in the Champions Cup pool stages against the French club who suffered an eight-try 57-3 hammering at the RDS.
Notably, Montpellier have New Zealander Vern Cotter as their incoming head coach and some big-name signings joining him, including Ruan Pienaar, Aaron Cruden and Louis Picamoles, while new Glasgow boss Dave Rennie will be targeting a strong European campaign. Leinster had the Scots in their pool when they were last crowned European Cup champions in 2012.
Ulster star Charles Piutau will come up against his former club in next season’s Champions Cup, with Wasps, who were edged out by Exeter in last month’s memorable Premiership decider, leading Pool 1’s quartet of teams.
With Wasps and La Rochelle both topping their respective leagues this term and Harlequins boasting a talented squad, it is a tough but manageable draw for the Ulstermen, who have John Gibbes, Dwayne Peel and Aaron Dundon coming in as part of a new coaching regime.
Intriguingly, Les Kiss’ side are set to play Wasps in a pre-season friendly at Kingspan Stadium on Thursday, August 17. Ulster and Wasps have not shared a European pool since splitting wins in 2001/02, while it was also honours even with Harlequins in 2008/09. La Rochelle are newcomers to the Champions Cup.
Saracens, who retained the coveted trophy in magnificent style in Edinburgh last month, will be up against Top 14 winners Clermont Auvergne in a repeat of the 2017 final, as well as the Ospreys and Northampton Saints in Pool 2.
The Scarlets, who are still on a high after being crowned PRO12 champions for the first time since 2004, will be in Pool 5 along with three-time winners Toulon, Bath and Benetton Treviso.
Today’s Champions Cup event, which was streamed live on epcrugby.com and official tournament Facebook channels, was compered by James Gemmell (Sky Sports) and Raphael Ibanez (France Télévisions), and the draws were conducted by Ieuan Evans (Sky Sports) and Austin Healey (BT Sport).
2017/18 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOLS:
POOL 1: Wasps, La Rochelle, ULSTER, Harlequins
POOL 2: Clermont Auvergne, Saracens, Ospreys, Northampton Saints
POOL 3: Exeter Chiefs, LEINSTER, Montpellier, Glasgow Warriors
POOL 4: MUNSTER, Racing 92, Leicester Tigers, Castres Olympique
POOL 5: Scarlets, Toulon, Bath, Benetton Treviso
EPCR KEY DATES – 2017/18 SEASON:
Round 1: October 12/13/14/15
Round 2: October 19/20/21/22
Round 3: December 7/8/9/10
Round 4: December 14/15/16/17
Round 5: January 11/12/13/14
Round 6: January 18/19/20/21
Quarter-Finals: March 29/30/31-April 1
Semi-Finals: April 20/21/22
Champions Cup Final: Saturday, May 12, San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao