Three weeks after Leinster became the first side in European Rugby history to win three Heineken Cups in as many years, the draw for next season’s competition was held in Dublin to establish the group stage fixtures which will commence in October.
Due to the magnificent performance of Edinburgh Rugby in reaching last season’s semi-final, the capital side find themselves promoted to the second tier of seeds, although they have still been drawn in what looks like a tough pool, containing European heavyweights Munster, English side Saracens and Racing Metro 92 from Paris.
Glasgow Warriors, who were amongst the third tier of teams, have secured a more favourable draw which sees them welcome former champions Northampton Saints, last season’s finalists Ulster Rugby and French side Castres Olympique to Scotstoun stadium.
Edinburgh have now set the bar for the two Scottish sides and given that their automatic qualification for the tournament will be reviewed in 2014 at the behest of the French and English clubs, it is essential that they regularly reach the quarter-final stage and begin to fulfil their potential amongst Europe’s elite.
Edinburgh head coach Michael Bradley and new Warriors chief Gregor Townsend will have been awaiting today’s draw with apprehension and excitement in equal doses as the Capital side will now be viewed as genuine contenders after this year’s achievements, whereas the competition will be a new experience for Townsend having only started his new role at Scotstoun last week.
Townsend tweeted “It’s a really exciting and challenging draw for us”, having been drawn against two of his former clubs in Northampton Saints and Castres.
“We want to qualify for the knock-outs for the first time, and that starts with winning the home games”, he continued, knowing that his side have managed to avoid the likes of Toulouse, Munster and Leinster in this year’s draw.
The draw means that former star Max Evans will make a return to Glasgow later this year as the Warriors welcome Castres to Scotstoun stadium where the seating capacity is likely to be increased over the winter to coincide with the 1872 cup derby.
Edinburgh fans will be relishing the return of Racing Metro to Murrayfield where the two sides played out one of the most thrilling ties in recent history in which the Scottish side remarkably came back to win 48-47 in a pulsating contest that saw 11 tries scored.
English side Saracens have so far disappointed on the European stage but are likely to bolster their squad over the summer and already have the likes of Springbok John Smit, England’s flying winger Chris Ashton and Scotland’s Kelly Brown amongst their ranks and will pose Edinburgh a number of threats.
Two-time champions Munster know all about winning tight games and have a decent record at Murrayfield and Edinburgh will have to be at their very best to claim victory when the two sides meet.
Elsewhere in the draw, champions Leinster find themselves up against ASM Clermont Auvernge who they overcame in this year’s semi-final, as well as Pro12 rivals the Scarlets and newcomers Exeter Chiefs.
In a potential “group of death”, Toulouse have been drawn together with Leicester Tigers and Ospreys along with Treviso in a pool which will have at least one major casualty come January.
Zebre, the new Italian side based in Parma, find themselves in Pool 3 which also features Biarritz, Harlequins and Connacht whilst Richie Gray’s new side Sale Sharks will travel to France twice to take on Montpellier and Toulon along with Cardiff Blues in Pool 6.
The competition begins in October where the first two rounds are played back to back and there will then be the familiar and much loved double-headers in December which will go a long way into determining the 8 teams that will go through to the knock-out stages in April before the final in Dublin’s Aviva stadium in May.
Pool 1 Munster Edinburgh Rugby Saracens Racing Metro 92
Pool 2 Toulouse Leicester Tigers Ospreys Benetton Treviso
Pool 3 Biarritz Harlequins Connacht Zebre
Pool 4 Northampton Saints Ulster Rugby Glasgow Warriors Castres Olympique
Pool 5 Leinster ASM Clermont Auvergne Scarlets Exeter Chiefs
Pool 6 Cardiff Blues Toulon Sale Sharks Montpellier
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