Players, fans and coaches around Europe are licking their lips at the prospect of Champions Cup rugby returning next season after the draw took place in Neuchatel this week.
Reigning champions Saracens found themselves drawn in the same pool as the team they beat at BT Murrayfield in last month’s final, ASM Clermont Auvergne, while the two teams that topped the Premiership and TOP14 tables, Wasps and La Rochelle, clash in Pool 1.
Here are some of the reactions from around the clubs:
POOL 1 – Wasps, La Rochelle, Ulster Rugby, Harlequins
Dai Young – (Director of Rugby, Wasps)
“You don’t get any easy games in Europe and you go into the tournament knowing that every game will be a massive test. The draw could have been worse and it could have been better.
“It doesn’t matter what team you are, it’s a pretty unforgiving tournament. To make it through to the knockout stages you need a bit of luck and you need your best players available for these games.”
Les Kiss (Director of Rugby, Ulster Rugby)
“I've got to say it's a very exciting pool. You look at what Wasps can deliver and the type of rugby they play, it's quite formidable really. La Rochelle are a very good attacking team that has immense power up front.
“Quins will always back themselves to perform as well. They will undoubtedly be six very tough fixtures, but that is what you expect in this competition.”
John Kingston (Director of Rugby, Harlequins)
“I think whoever we were going to get in the draw it was going to become the proverbial 'group of death' because with Harlequins being seeded in the fourth tier that meant nobody would have wanted us in the draw. What it makes for is an unbelievably competitive group.
“La Rochelle are a team that is respected hugely and as Harlequins has never played them before, it's different and it's really exciting. They're a tremendous side and finished top of the regular season in the Top 14.
“We've got a good record in France and playing matches over there brings out the best in the Club. Not just from a playing perspective, but also because the supporters love to go over there and explore different parts of the world. We know Wasps, we've just beaten them at home, and when we have our players available for the European matches we're a handful for anyone.”
POOL 2 – ASM Clermont Auvergne, Saracens, Ospreys, Northampton Saints
Mark McCall (Director of Rugby, Saracens)
“It’s a tough pool and there are teams we haven’t had in our pools before. We had Clermont a couple of years back.”
Neil McIlroy (Team Manager, Clermont)
“Each year the groups get more and more difficult as the bar is raised in all the competing countries. We do know Saracens well and I guess both clubs are a bit disappointed to be meeting again so soon, but we just have to get on with it while pointing out that the Ospreys and the Saints are also quality sides.
“We were the last club to beat Saracens in Europe when we won13-9 in the 2015 semi-finals but they are a stronger side now than they were then and we have a lot of respect for the consistency they have shown in all tournaments.”
Steve Tandy (Head Coach, Ospreys)
“We want to pit ourselves against the best and that’s definitely the case in this pool. We’re excited and are already looking forward to testing ourselves in a group which is probably as tough as it is possible to get.
“We missed out on this competition last season so we are pleased to be back in it, against the very best. Given the clubs we are up against it, we’ll probably go in under the radar, but like we saw two years ago in this competition, if you win your home games anything can happen.”
Jim Mallinder (Director of Rugby, Northampton Saints)
“If you want to be in the Champions Cup you’ve got to be prepared to play tough teams and this is what we will have to do. It’s a challenging draw and we know that we’ll have to play at our very best if we are to progress from it.
“Saracens and Clermont were this year’s Champions Cup finalists and are two of the best teams in Europe, and the Ospreys have plenty of international players, too. But it is a draw that we can be excited about, because we want to test ourselves against the other top team, and we believe we’ve got a squad that can compete next season.”
POOL 3 – Exeter Chiefs, Leinster Rugby, Montpellier, Glasgow Warriors
Gareth Steenson (Captain, Exeter Chiefs)
“If we're honest we were disappointed with how Europe went for us last season, so this offers us a great chance to try and put things right this year.
“We've played all three teams before in Europe and we know the quality that each of them possess, but playing at this level you know whoever you come up against, it's never going to be easy.”
Vern Cotter (Head Coach, Montpellier)
“It's a very solid pool with two PRO12 teams and the English champions. In a way, it's good that there is no other French team. Exeter are a team that is getting stronger and won a title this year.
“Then there is Leinster, who recovered their smile last season and reached the semi-finals in both the Champions Cup and PRO12.Celtic League semi-finals and Champions Cup . They are a team that caused Montpellier big problems last season.
“Finally, there is Glasgow,PRO12 champions two years ago and a team that has a lot of coaches and players that I know well from my time in Scotland. All four teams will have an ambition to get out of the pool and to do that you will have to perform well in every game.”
Jonathan Humphreys (Forwards Coach, Glasgow Warriors)
“There's a slightly different atmosphere on European nights than in the PRO12. Leinster, like a lot of the Irish teams, seem to base their season around the European campaign, so we'd expect them to have their best players available and really go for it.
“Leinster, Exeter and Montpellier all want to play a good brand of rugby, so I think it's going to be a really good tournament for the spectators.”
POOL 4 – Munster Rugby, Racing 92, Leicester Tigers, Castres Olympique
Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby, Munster Rugby)
“When you play in this competition, you are facing the best of the best, the Champions Cup remains the ultimate accolade in Europe. Last year I said we would have been seen as the easy draw.
“Instead our guys topped their pool and reached the semi-final. Anything can happen in cup rugby and that’s the challenge everyone faces.
“Playing two of the three pool sides for consecutive seasons will be a real test of how far ourselves, Leicester and Racing have come in a year. While delighted to do so well in last season’s competition, we know that we have much to work on all three sides will pose a massive challenge.
POOL 5 – Scarlets, RC Toulon, Bath Rugby, Benetton Treviso
Wayne Pivac (Head Coach, Scarlets)
“The make-up of the groups just goes to show the calibre of the competition. Winning the PRO12 means that we head into this season's competition as top seed, but we face another tough challenge as we take on former champions and TOP14 finalists Toulon once again.
“We are familiar with them having faced them in the last few seasons in Europe, but will want to build on our last performance, and victory, against them. Bath is a team we faced in the Anglo-Welsh Cup last season, but they will be a very different side in Europe. There's a long-standing tradition and heritage between the two sides and we'll look forward to taking on the likes of former Scarlet Rhys Priestland.
“Treviso is a side we also know well through PRO12 competition. It's not an easy place to go and we will be mindful of that as we prepare to take them on in Europe.”
Todd Blackadder (Director of Rugby, Bath Rugby)
“The Champions Cup is the competition that every club in Europe wants to play in. To have the opportunity to test ourselves against the best is going to bring out the best in our squad and we’re really excited by the challenge.
“There are no easy matches and we’re well aware that we are going to have to play our very best to advance in a tough group that includes the winners of the PRO12 and the runners-up in the TOP14. Getting off to a strong start is crucial, so we have to make sure when the first game comes around, we’re ready to deliver the type of performance we know that we are capable of.”
Antonio Pavanello (Sporting Director, Benetton Treviso)
“We know perfectly the strength of the Champions Cup – it has the best 20 teams in Europe – so there are no easy pools and everyone has its own pitfall. The Scarlets are a club that we know well from the PRO12, they are a solid, determined team that loves to play an open game, as they showed in winning the title.
“Toulon will be a new experience for us, but we met Bath twice in the 2004/05 campaign and beat them at home. We know they are also a very good team and we will have to be very careful.
“We really want to do well in the Champions Cup and demonstrate our true worth. Especially at home, we want to give our fans something to shout about. “