The draw for the 2019/2020 edition of the Heineken Champions Cup was made on Wednesday afternoon in Lausanne, Switzerland.
All four of the Irish provinces are competing in next season’s edition of the Champions Cup and today they learned who stands between them and European glory.
Here we discuss some of the biggest talking points from Wednesday’s draw.
Pool Of Death
We couldn’t start anywhere else but to discuss the draw which Munster received. The two-time champions have been drawn with reigning champions Saracens. The English club have won the competition in three of the last four seasons including knocking out Munster at the semi-final stage in the most recent campaign.
Pool 4 also includes French heavyweights Racing 92. The Parisian club knocked Munster out at the semi-final stage in the 2017/18 edition of the competition to reach the final where they were defeated by Leinster in Bilbao.
Ospreys are the final team to be included and they are the only Welsh side to qualify for the Champions Cup. They will definitely offer a challenge to their three opponents.
Munster have now reached the semi-final stage of the Champions Cup for the last three seasons in a row. Supporters of the southern province are desperate for European silverware and if they achieve that next season, they will certainly have to do it the hard way.
Leinster To Stroll To The Knockout Stages
Being a top seed doesn’t necessarily guarantee an easy draw. Just ask Saracens. But Leinster head coach Leo Cullen will certainly be content with his side’s place in Pool 1. Leinster have been matched up with beaten Top 14 semi-finalists Lyon in addition to the Northampton Saints and Benetton who made the PRO14 playoffs for the first time last season.
Each game will pose certain challenges to last season’s beaten finalists but anything other than the top spot and a home quarter-final will come as a shock to most Leinster fans.
Connacht Face A Tough Return To Europe’s Top Table
Andy Friend’s impact on Connacht since he took over at the beginning of last season has been clear for all to see and their upturn in fortunes resulted in them qualifying for the Champions Cup after a two-year absence.
Their PRO14 quarter-final loss to Ulster meant that they were always likely to receive a tough draw and that’s exactly what transpired as their Pool 5 opponents include Top 14 champions Toulouse, Premiership semi-finalists Gloucester and a powerful Montpellier side littered with international talent.
It’s unlikely that the western province will get out of this pool but they will prove a match to anyone at their home patch in Galway.
Friend is only entering his second year in charge of the province – some strong home performances in Europe and an improvement on their PRO14 quarter-final exit will be a successful season.
Familiar Faces To Return To Thomond Park
When Racing 92 were drawn as the third team in Pool 4, images were instantly conjured of Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan lining out against their old side.
Zebo and Ryan are entering their second year with the Parisian club and it will be a special moment when they line out against Munster, especially at Thomond Park.
Zebo and Ryan are held in incredibly high esteem by supporters and the Munster players will doubt be very familiar with the dangers they pose when they rock up to the Limerick venue.
Some extra added spice to what is already a fascinating fixture.
Ulster Have It In Their Locker To Reach The Knockout Stages
It’s safe to say that Ulster Rugby was in a state of disarray, both on and off the pitch, before Dan McFarland took over as head coach.
The impact which the 47-year-old has had on the northern province cannot be understated. With a very young squad, he guided his side to the semi-finals of the PRO14 and the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup where, in truth, they should have knocked out Leinster.
Last year they faced a tough group which included Racing 92, Scarlets and the Leicester Tigers. They produced back-to-back wins over their Welsh and English opponents in addition to a home victory over Racing 92.
They will likely need to produce similar heroics home and away against Bath and Harlequins to progress but they will be confident that they have the capabilities to do so while picking up at a minimum, losing bonus points against Top 14 finalists Clermont Auvergne.