ASM Clermont Auvergne head coach Franck Azéma is looking forward to renewing old acquaintances and making new ones in this season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup.

The TOP 14 club have not played in the Challenge Cup since 2011, when they reached the semi-finals, but they will face a familiar foe in Pool 1 in Northampton Saints, whom they faced in Pool 2 of the Champions Cup last season, winning at home and losing away.

However, their other two opponents – Welsh region Dragons and Romanian club Timisoara Saracens – are not so familiar. They have not played the Dragons since 2007 and have never played Timisoara.

“It’s a competition that we’ll need to reacquaint ourselves with,” Azéma, speaking to Clermont’s official website, said of the Challenge Cup, which the French side won in 1999 and 2007.

“We’ll again meet Northampton, who were with us in the Champions Cup last season and who beat us at their ground. We know them very well and they have again strengthened their squad in the close season.

“It’s a little of the unknown with the Dragons, who we haven’t met for a long time, and even more so with Timisoara.

“I’d be lying if I said that I know this team well, but we will have time to focus on them in the months to come.

“On the other hand, I know that these teams will be looking forward to this competition all year and will play with a lot of determination in every match. We must expect that we will have to respond with similar desire for the whole competition.”

The first fixtures for the Pool Stage of the 2018/19 European Rugby Challenge Cup will be released later this summer, around two weeks after the last fixture announcement of Europe’s three professional domestic leagues.