Leinster Rugby head coach Leo Cullen has described the Irish province’s Heineken Champions Cup Pool 1 next season as “very competitive”.

The four-time winners were paired with French side Lyon, English club Northampton Saints and Italian team Benetton Rugby in Lausanne last week.

“We have seen over the last few years just how difficult it is to compete in this competition and, as always, the first priority will be to get out of our pool and doing that in Pool 1 will not be easy,” Cullen told the Leinster website.

“Overall, it’s a very competitive pool, but we very much look forward to the challenge that it presents in particular in a World Cup season.”

Leinster’s matches against Lyon will be their first in European competition, after the TOP 14 outfit qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup for a second successive year, having previously never played in the tournament.

“Lyon have been very consistent in the French TOP 14 the last few seasons and their third-place finish last season was a further example of that consistency, improving on their fifth place the season before,” Cullen added.

“They are a very ambitious team that are well coached by Pierre Mignoni and we need to be at our very best to perform against them in the Matmut Stadium, where of course we played our 2017 Champions Cup semi-final against Clermont.”

In contrast, the 2019 runners-up are very familiar with Northampton in the European Cup and Benetton in the Guinness PRO14.

“Benetton Rugby have been one of the success stories of the PRO14 the last few seasons,” Cullen commented. “The work that Kieran Crowley has done there has meant their performances have continued to improve during his time and they have made some shrewd signings in the off-season, with the likes of Ian Keatley going there.

“We have recent history against Northampton Saints, playing them in 2016, but also, before that, in 2013 – with us winning at Franklin’s Gardens and them winning in the Aviva Stadium a week later in the return fixture – and then, of course, in the final itself in 2011.”

Indeed, Cullen captained Leinster to that famous victory eight years ago, when the Irish province fought back from 22-8 down at half-time to triumph 33-22 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.