/ Rugby

Irish provinces relishing Champions Cup challenge

Updated: Tuesday, 10 Jun 2014 20:45 | Comments

Toulon, Leicester and Scarlets will visit Kingspan Stadium next season to play Ulster in the pool stage of the European Rugby Champions Cup
Toulon, Leicester and Scarlets will visit Kingspan Stadium next season to play Ulster in the pool stage of the European Rugby Champions Cup

The Irish provinces have expressed cautious optimism after the draw for the group stages of the European Rugby Champions Cup produced some fascinating match-ups.

New Munster head coach Anthony Foley described his side’s European Rugby Champions Cup group rivals as “fearsome opposition”.

The Reds were drawn in Pool 1 with Saracens, Clermont and Sale Sharks.

"We have picked up three of the best teams in Europe in our pool and looking at the rest of the tournament I think this is an even stronger draw than in previous years,” said Foley.

"We have six massive games ahead of us and we will be looking forward to them all. I'm sure there are a few teams who won't be too happy about having Munster in their pool.

"Having grown up at the club, it is going to be a huge honour for me to coach the team next season.

"I certainly won't be underestimating the size of the task, but we have a good group of players who have been around for a while.”

Leinster hooker Sean Cronin said his side were looking to improve on last season’s efforts after drawing Harlequins, Castres and Wasps in Pool 2.

"We were disappointed with ourselves last season,” he said.

"We worked so hard to progress from a pool that included Northampton, Castres and Ospreys and then felt we let ourselves down in the quarter-final at Toulon.

"Leinster have a proud tradition in Europe and it will be a huge focus for us next season.

“We are judged on winning trophies and it was great to lift the PRO12 title and send everyone off for the summer break with a huge boost, but we want to prove ourselves again in Europe next season even though it will be strange not to have Leo and Brian on the pitch.”

Ulster chief executive Shane Logan said the province’s group of Toulon, Leicester and Scarlets was “tough, achievable and very exciting” and that he was particularly looking forward to the visit of the French European champions to Ravenhill.

“We believe we have, perhaps, Europe's best stadium and we want to have Europe's best teams playing at it," he said.

"That's the beauty of this competition and that's the beauty of what we're trying to create here in Ulster.

“Toulon have a team that is star-studded with some of the world's best players and I know they'll bring a big crowd over and I know that our crowd will more than rival them.

"It's great for Ulster Rugby and it will be a pleasure to welcome them to Kingspan Stadium.”

“The pools are more competitive than they have ever been, obviously because there are five teams less,” observed RTÉ rugby analyst Tony Ward.

“Looking down the pools, there is no easy pool, and though we usually pick out one ‘Pool of Death’, there are at least two, if not three.

“The groups that Ulster and Munster are in are really difficult.

“Leinster will be quite happy but it’s still going to be difficult. Quins regressed last season but they’re still riddled with internationals, many of them out in New Zealand at the moment.

“We know what Castres are capable of, they were Top 14 finalists again this year. Wasps have gone back a little bit, they’re trying to remodel themselves, but certainly for Leinster, not a bad draw.

“For Munster, with Saracens and Clermont, you have three of the semi-finalists in the same pool. That is the Pool of Death.

“But all of the teams are capable of beating each other.

“And that applies to nearly all five pools. To pick the winner of each is almost mission impossible.

“It is going to be that competitive and bonus points are going to mean everything throughout the competition.”

“Pool 3 is mouthwatering. Friday night rugby has become part and parcel of what Ulster are and can you imagine what those nights against Toulon, Leicester and Scarlets are going to be like?”

Ward is confident that Connacht can go far in the second-tier Challenge Cup, after they were paired with Exeter Chiefs, Bayonne and La Rochelle.

“I would worry about Exeter. I think they’ve been impressive over the last few seasons," he warned.

"That said, Connacht rugby are on the march. There are some top quality players coming in and it’s exciting times all round.

“Connacht have a real chance in the competition and the draw certainly hasn’t altered my opinion.”

User contributions and/or comments do not, unless specifically stated, represent the views of RTÉ.ie or RTÉ.
Click here for Terms of use
Powered by NewsWhip