Perpignan sporting director Christian Lanta savoured the TOP 14 side’s return to the European Rugby Challenge Cup after a six-season absence – and then described their Pool 3 draw as “a royal gift”.

The French team, who reached the semi-finals on their last appearance in the competition in 2012/13, have been paired with Connacht Rugby, Sale Sharks and TOP 14 rivals Bordeaux-Bègles.

Lanta told radio station France Bleu: “They’ve given us a royal gift. We have the great Irish province of Connacht, who made the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup last season, Sale and Bordeaux, with their lucrative recruitment of [Semi] Radrada and all the others.

“Yes, it’s a very, very challenging Pool. They are opponents who will make us raise our game. These are international matches against big clubs.

“For all players who need game time or to get match-hardened, they will be a means to progress and to learn. Above all, we will not waste this test. That would be a big mistake. We will use these matches thoroughly to progress so that year after year USAP can return to the highest European level.”

Perpignan’s greatest achievement on the European stage so far came in 2003, when they were beaten 22-17 by Toulouse in the final of the European Cup.

Now, after winning the Pro D2 title last season, they are back in Europe, in the Challenge Cup.