We continue our look at the Challenge Cup line-up today with a factfile on Pool 2, which comprises the French duo of RC Toulon and Bayonne, Welsh region Scarlets and newly-promoted English team London Irish.
Ground: Parc y Scarlets, Llanelli, Wales.
Challenge Cup record: This will be the first season that Scarlets have begun their European campaign in the Challenge Cup, but it is not the first time they have played in the competition.
In the days when teams dropped down from the European Cup for the knockout stages, Scarlets competed twice in the quarter-finals – in 2009/10 and 2011/12 – but they lost on each occasion, 38-12 at Toulon and 15-11 at Brive respectively.
Last season: Scarlets endured a disappointing campaign in the Heineken Champions Cup, losing five of their six Pool 4 matches to finish third with just seven points.
Head coach: Brad Mooar has taken over as head coach from Wayne Pivac following last weekend’s Super Rugby final, where he was assistant coach to the victorious Crusaders.
Mooar, who has held that post for four years, has also been assistant coach to Southern Kings’ Super Rugby side in South Africa.
New signings: Scarlets have strengthened their squad with Welsh and New Zealand talent, Cardiff Blues wing Tom James and scrum-half Dane Blacker joining them along with Ospreys prop Alex Jeffries from Guinness PRO14 rivals, while forwards Sam Lousi and Danny Drake have arrived from Hurricanes and North Harbour respectively.
Ground: Stade Mayol, Toulon, France.
Challenge Cup record: Toulon were regular participants in the Challenge Cup in its early years, playing in it six times between 1996/97 and 2009/10. However, since then they have appeared just once, in 2011/12.
Their best performances were in 2009/10 and 2011/12, when they reached the final and lost narrowly on both occasions – 28-21 to Cardiff Blues and 21-18 to Biarritz Olympique respectively.
Last season: They fell at the pool stage in the Heineken Champions Cup, after winning only two of their Pool 5 games to finish third.
Director of rugby: Patrice Collazo, the former Toulouse and Gloucester Rugby prop, has occupied the Toulon hot seat since the start of last season.
Previously, the 2006 Challenge Cup winner, 45, was director of rugby at La Rochelle for four seasons.
New signings: Toulon have been on a major recruitment drive for 2019/20, signing 14 players to date. The most well-known are New Zealand’s World Cup-winning wing, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Italy No.8 Sergio Parisse, South Africa lock Eben Etzebeth and France scrum-half Baptiste Serin.
Ground: Madejski Stadium, Reading, England.
Challenge Cup record: Easily London Irish’s best performance in the competition came in 2005/06, when they were pipped 36-34 in the final after extra time by Gloucester Rugby at Twickenham Stoop.
That was the last of the three occasions they have reached the knockout stages, the others – in 1999/2000 and 2001/02 – ending in defeat in the semi-finals.
Last season: They were not involved in Europe, as they were fighting to get out of the Greene King IPA Championship, which they topped by 13 points to win promotion.
Director of rugby: Former World Rugby Coach of the Year Declan Kidney, who guided Ireland to their first Grand Slam in 61 years in 2009 and Munster Rugby to their two European Cups, has been the Exiles’ director of rugby since March 2018.
New signings: In preparation for their return to the Galllagher Premiership and Challenge Cup, Irish have been on a signing spree, recruiting 10 players to date.
They include Australia scrum-half Nick Phipps, prop Sekope Kepu and lock Adam Coleman, Ireland flanker Sean O’Brien and fly-half Paddy Jackson, Scotland prop Allan Dell and New Zealand wing Waisake Naholo.
Ground: Stade Jean-Dauger, Bayonne, France.
Challenge Cup record: Bayonne have reached the latter stages of the competition only once, in 2005/06, when they were beaten 48-5 by London Irish. This will be their first appearance in it since 2016/17, when they lost all six of their Pool 1 games.
Last season: Bayonne were absent from European competition, as they were in France’s Pro D2, where they finished third before winning promotion via the play-offs.
Head coach: Yannick Bru, 46, took over in 2018 and immediately guided Bayonne to promotion. Previously, the former France hooker, a double European Cup winner with Toulouse and a Challenge Cup champion with Colomiers, was forwards coach of Toulouse and then France.
New signings: Bayonne have been adding to their squad as they prepare for a return to the TOP 14 and Challenge Cup, signing 14 players to date, the best known of whom include former Argentina lock Mariano Galarza, Samoa props Viliamu Afatia and Census Johnston.