Munster will have to do it the hard way in Europe this coming season after being drawn to face holders Saracens and Racing 92 in the pool stages of the Heineken Champions Cup.

It means Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan will have a reunion with the province, who were beaten by Racing in the semi-finals in 2018. Ospreys are the other side in a fiendishly tough looking Pool 4.

Last season's beaten finalists Leinster will be expected to negotiate a Pool 1 made up of Lyon, Northampton Saints and Benetton.

Ulster will have to square up to Clermont, Harlequins and Bath in Pool 3 while Connacht - back in Europe's premier competition for the first time since 2016 - face Toulouse, Gloucester and Montpellier in Pool 5.

Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle meanwhile were drawn with Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors and Sale Sharks in Pool 2. 

The pool stages kick off later this year, due to the small matter of the World Cup in Japan.

The first round of games is slated for the weekend of 15/16/17 November. 

POOL 1

Leinster, Lyon, Northampton Saints, Benetton

POOL 2

Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle, Sale Sharks

POOL 3

Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Harlequins, Bath

POOL 4

Saracens, Munster, Racing 92, Opsreys

POOL 5 

Toulouse, Gloucester, Connacht, Montpellier

Leinster boss Leo Cullen said the draw "sharpens the mind" on the day that his side began their pre-season. 

He added that he has been particularly impressed with the progress of their Italian opponents. 

"Benetton Rugby have been one of the success stories of the Pro14 the last few seasons and in particular qualifying for the Champions Cup on merit for the first time in their history last year," he said.

"The work that Kieran Crowley has done there has meant their performances have continued to improve during his time and they have made some shrewd signings in the off-season with the likes of Ian Keatley going there."

Speaking about their pool, Munster head coach Johann van Graan said: "It's such a tough draw but that’s why it’s called the Champions Cup and that’s why we want to be in this competition

"Everyone knows how strong [Saracens] are.

"[Racing] are a side that have so many talented players in every position. 

"Ospreys won more games than any other Welsh side in the league last year and showed how much the Champions Cup means to them with their excellent play-off win over Scarlets."

Bryn Cunningham, Ulster Rugby operations director, said: "Overall we're happy. Clermont are a top side with one of the best atmospheres you can get in European rugby. 

"Coming so close to Leinster in the quarter-finals has given us an appetite in such an amazing competition to at least go one step further."