Champions Cup 2019-20: get to know the provinces' pool opposition
Johnny Watterson looks at the European opposition the Irish will face next season
Munster will face Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje when they take on defending European champions Saracens. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Pool 1 (Leinster)
Lyon - Were promoted to the Top 14 for the 2016-17 season after winning the 2015-16 second division, the Pro D2. The club has bounced between the two leagues in recent years but with 17 wins in 26 league outings were consistently good enough last season to rank third among the French clubs.
Northampton Saints - Last season was about building with a new coaching team in place, the Hurricanes’ Chris Boyd, Sam Vesty and Matt Ferguson. Heading to Franklin’s Gardens is double World Cup-winning All Black Owen Franks, who is joining from the Crusaders. James Haskell has retired.
Benetton Rugby - Broke new ground in the league by becoming the first Italian team to qualify for the Pro14 Final Series but were edged out 15-13 by Munster in Limerick. Some kicking issues but Coach Kieran Crowley was the first of an Italian side to win Coach of the Season award, beating off Leo Cullen.
Pool 3 (Ulster)
Clermont - The French side are probably favourites to win this pool. Just days ago they lost 24-18 to Toulouse in the Top 14 final in Paris but have been competitive in Europe over the last decade losing to Toulon in the 2013 and 2015 European Cup finals and to Saracens in 2017. But they have never won the trophy.
Harlequins - The fifth ranked English team in the draw have a raft of new players coming in. Head of Rugby Paul Gustard can look forward to the arrival of, among others, Jaguares prop Santiago Botta and 84-times capped Argentina scrumhalf Martin Landajo as well as Italian centre Michele Campagnaro.
Bath - When Leinster met them last year the Dublin side won back-to-back games in the Rec and in Aviva Stadium. Bath are looking to qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time since 2015. Came into the draw ranked as the fifth English club side. Bath’s outhalf Freddie meets brother Billy at Ulster. Always interesting.
Pool 4 (Munster)
Saracens - Mark McCall and his team proved good enough for a Premiership and European Cup double. Beating Leinster in the European final demonstrated their development of the high tempo, aggressive, English style. With Owen Farrell orchestrating and key players around the field, there are no weaknesses.
Racing 92 - The good news is Simon Zebo and Donnacha Ryan will have a reunion of sorts and for Zebo more endearing than his recent Belfast experience. Beaten by Racing in the semi-finals in 2018, the arrival of Stephen Larkham and Graham Rowntree to the Munster coaching team is causing a positive stir.
Ospreys - The only Welsh club in the Champions Cup, they beat Scarlets at the end of last season in a play-off to make the draw. Coached by former Irish hooker Allen Clarke, Ospreys know they have a stinker on their hands. They were ranked seventh of the seven Pro14 teams who qualified for the draw.
Pool 5 (Connacht)
Toulouse - In with a chance after beating Clermont to the Top 14 title last week. Given the draw they will expect to reach the knockout phase although they may well remember 2013 when Connacht caused one of the greatest European upsets with a remarkable 16-14 victory at the Stade Ernest Wallon.
Gloucester - The third ranked English side after Saracens and Exeter take on the current Top 14 champions for the second season in succession, having played Castres Olympique in 2018-19. No strangers to Connacht, the sides met each other in the Challenge Cup in 2015 and a Galway quarter-final in 2018.
Montpellier - Challenge Cup winners in 2016 and some known names among their ranks including prop Daniel Brennan, son of former Irish flanker Trevor. Bismark du Plessis, Aaron Cruden and Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo were all there last season in a star studded cast. Ruan Pienaar, however, departs.