Ulster and Munster handed tough pools in new European Champions Cup

Leinster to meet Castres for second year running; Connacht draw two French sides

Ulster, beaten quarter-finalists last season and beaten finalists in 2011, have been handed a brutal draw in the newly styled Rugby Champions Cup pool draw in Neuchatel, Switzerland today.

Mark Anscombe’s squad is grouped alongside, the 2013 and 2014 Heineken Cup champions, Toulon, who also won this season’s French Top 14 Championship, two-time champions the Leicester Tigers – Ulster beat them twice in the pool last season – and also Simon Easterby’s Scarlets in Pool 3.

Munster’s remit is equally arduous as they must take on beaten Heineken Cup finalists, Saracens – they also lost the Aviva Premiership final having finished top of the table during the league stage– perennial challengers Clermont Auvergne and another English club in the Sale Sharks in Pool 1.

Three-time European champions Leinster oppose familiar foes in Pool 2 in losing French Top 14 finalists Castres, whom the Irish province beat twice during the pool stages last season, Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins and London Wasps.

Prior to drawing the 20 teams into their pools, the first duty for former England and Lions secondrow Simon Shaw and Scott Quinnell was to decide on the final two top seeds that would join Leinster, Toulon and Saracens. Northampton Saints and Glasgow Warriors won the lotto while Castres dropped into the second tier.

Meanwhile Connacht have drawn two French sides in Pool 2 of the new European Challenge Cup. Their supporters will be able to enjoy the delights of Bayonne and La Rochelle while also heading to Sandy Park, home of Aviva Premiership club Exeter Chiefs.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOLS

POOL ONE: Saracens, MUNSTER, Clermont, Sale.

POOL TWO: LEINSTER, Castres, Harlequins, Wasps.

POOL THREE: Toulon, Leicester, ULSTER, Scarlets.

POOL FOUR: Glasgow, Montpellier, Bath, Toulouse.

POOL FIVE: Northampton, Racing Metro, Ospreys, Treviso.

CHALLENGE CUP POOLS

POOL ONE: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, Qualifier.

POOL TWO: Exeter, Bayonne, CONNACHT, La Rochelle.

POOL THREE: Stade Francais, Dragons, Newcastle, Qualifier.

POOL FOUR: Edinburgh, Bordeaux-Begles, London Welsh, Lyon.

POOL FIVE: Gloucester, Brive, Zebre, Oyonnax.

POOL STAGE DATES

Round 1: 16/17/18/19 October 2014

Round 2: 23/24/25/26 October 2014

Round 3: 4/5/6/7 December 2014

Round 4: 11/12/13/14 December 2014

Round 5: 15/16/17/18 January 2015

Round 6: 22/23/24/25 January 2015

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer

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