Champions Cup draw: Leinster face Racing 92, Ulster play La Rochelle while Munster draw Toulouse

Leinster avoid final rematch with Ronan O’Gara while Ulster get brute of a draw with defending champions and Sale Sharks

Leinster have avoided a rematch with Ronan O’Gara and La Rochelle having been paired with Racing 92 and Gloucester in the Pool A stages of next season’s Champions Cup.

In a brute of a draw for Ulster, they instead will have to square off in Pool B against defending champions La Rochelle and Sale Sharks, quarter-finalists in the most recent campaign.

Munster were always going to face a tricky set of fixtures given their position in tier three of the draw and they are staring into contests with 2021 champions Toulouse - the side that knocked them out of this year’s competition via a penalty shootout - and Premiership semi-finalists Northampton Saints. They are also in Pool B.

Munster’s draw could arguably have been worse if Harlequins came out of the hat alongside Toulouse, though, they could well have faced Bordeaux instead of the side that knocked them out last season in such dramatic circumstances.

Both Leinster and Ulster came into Tuesday’s draw knowing that two of La Rochelle, Racing 92, Gloucester and Sale Sharks were their prospective opponents. Leo Cullen’s group will probably be the happier of the two Irish provinces given their history against La Rochelle and the threat Sale pose as a side with the size profile against which Leinster have historically struggled.

In other notable clashes, URC champions Stormers will square off against Clermont Auvergne and London Irish, while beaten finalists the Bulls face Exeter Chiefs and Edinburgh.

Saracens, back in the competition after their English championship hiatus, have drawn Lyon and Edinburgh. The competitions will culminate in their respective finals in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on May 19th 2023 for the Challenge Cup, 20th for the Champions Cup.

In the Challenge Cup, Connacht have been drawn against Brive and Newcastle Falcons. The French side finished in 12th position in last season’s domestic league, while the Falcons were second from bottom in the Premiership.

How it Works

The draw saw the 24 qualified teams split up into four tiers based on how they fared in their respective domestic competitions. From there, two pools of 12 were decided with each side playing four fixtures against two other clubs.

Once put into pools tier one clubs, the champions and runners-up of the URC, Top14 and Gallagher Premiership, were drawn against tier four sides from the same pool, while tiers two and three were paired against each other. Within those pools, clubs from the same country or league could not be drawn together.

Both Leinster and Ulster were tier two sides as beaten semi-finalists in the URC, with Munster down in tier three after being knocked out of their domestic competition in the quarter-final. However, despite tier two clubs being paired with tier three, the rule against domestic clashes meant that Munster could not face any of the provinces or other URC sides.

Leinster were placed in Pool A alongside tier three outfits Racing 92, Gloucester and the Sharks. Since the latter plays in the URC, that left the province with Racing 92 and Gloucester as their pool opponents.

Similarly in Pool B, Ulster were left with La Rochelle and Sale as their tier three opponents. Munster are in the same pool and will therefore play Toulouse and Northampton Saints, the non-URC sides both in their pool and the tier above them.

In a similar format to this year, teams will play each other home and away in four rounds of the pool stages before progression to the last-16 is determined. The top eight sides in Pools A and B - both consisting of 12 teams - will qualify, while the bottom two of each will move to the Challenge Cup.

After being played across two legs in the last campaign, that format is scrapped for this year and the last-16 will be a single game knockout.

Pools

Pool A

Castres (v Exeter Chiefs and Edinburgh)

Saracens (v Lyon and Edinburgh)

Bulls (v Edinburgh and Exeter Chiefs)

Bordeaux-Begles (v Gloucester and Sharks)

Harlequins (v Racing 92 and Sharks)

Leinster (v Racing 92 and Gloucester)

Racing 92 (v Leinster and Gloucester)

Gloucester (v Bordeaux-Begles and Leinster)

Sharks (v Bordeaux-Begles and Harlequins)

Lyon (v Saracens and Bulls)

Exeter Chiefs (v Castres and Bulls)

Edinburgh (v Castres and Saracens)

Pool B

Montpellier (v London Irish and Ospreys)

Leicester Tigers (v Clermont Auvergne and Ospreys)

Stormers (v Clermont Auvergne and London Irish)

Toulouse (v Sale Sharks and Munster)

Northampton Saints (v La Rochelle and Munster)

Ulster (v La Rochelle and Sale Sharks)

La Rochelle (v Northampton Saints and Ulster)

Sale Sharks (v Toulouse and Ulster)

Munster (v Toulouse and Northampton)

Clermont Auvergne (v Leicester Tigers and Stormers)

London Irish (v Montpellier and Sormers)

Ospreys (v Montpellier and Leicester Tigers)

Fixtures

Round 1 – December 9th/10th/11th

Round 2 – December 16th/17th/18th

Round 3 – January 13th/14th/15th

Round 4 – January 20th/21st/22nd

Round of 16 –March 31st/April  1st/2nd

Quarter-finals –April 7th/8th/9th

Semi-finals – April 28th/29th/30th

Final – May 20th

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist