They may have been drawn in next season’s ‘Pool of Death’, but Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The Welsh region, who made European club rugby history last season by becoming the first team in either tournament to secure the maximum 30 points in the pool stages with six successive bonus point wins, were drawn in Pool 2 with reigning champions Saracens, French champions ASM Clermont Auvergne and Northampton Saints.
While some coaches might have been left cursing their luck, Tandy was rubbing his hands at the chance of mixing it with three of Europe’s top teams. Given he has four current British & Irish Lions in his squad, and his side reached the PRO12 semi-finals, he will have some talent to play with himself.
“For fans, players, or as a coach, when you look at these three games, it’s exactly what you want. I’m sure the supporters are all talking about it, getting excited, and we’re no different,” admitted Tandy.
“We want to pit ourselves against the best and that’s definitely going to be the case in this pool. I’m expecting three great occasions at the Liberty Stadium – big crowds and, hopefully, three performances to back that up.
“We’re excited and we’re already looking forward to testing ourselves in a pool 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 and playing 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.”
The Ospreys have played Saracens three times in the European Cup and lost every time. Their first meeting was in the quarter-finals in 2008 ay Vicarage Road when the home side came up trumps 19-10 two weeks after being thumped 30-3 by the same team in the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
The two teams then met in the pool stages in 2011/12, when the Saracens triumphed 31-26 at Wembley and then won 16-13 in Swansea. The Ospreys will also be seeking their first win over their other English opponents, Northampton Saints.
They have clashed four times in Europe, with the Saints marching to a double success in 2013/14 and the following season. The record against Clermont is more encouraging, with honours even at three home wins apiece after three pool campaigns.
“Saracens’ record speaks for itself – they’re back-to-back champions, they haven’t lost in Europe for two years, they’ve been in the Premiership semi-finals every season for the last eight years and won the title three times,” added Tandy.
“You won’t find better, anywhere in the world – they are up there with the very best ever. Their squad is unbelievable, they do what they do so well, have an amazing culture and will believe they can keep their incredible run going in this competition.
“We had two amazing matches against Clermont two years ago, taking six points off them in the pool, so we know exactly what to expect from them. They have a star-studded squad and over the last three or four years have been one of the very best teams in the world.
“We’ve played Northampton a few times in recent seasons and had some tough games, so I wouldn’t expect this to be any different. They were disappointed with how this season went and will want to bounce back to where they feel they belong next season.”