What do you mean we haven’t rounded up last season yet? Okay, we are working on it! The rugby world has of course already moved on, with several squads already back in training and the draw for the next season’s Heineken Cup announced today.
As they are now both firmly in the third tier of seeds (and even that is a bit generous given past performance), no pool they could get would be easy but here is what has been served up:
POOL ONE: Munster, Northampton Saints, Scarlets, Castres Olympique
Munster and the Saints get to slog it out again. Max Evans will be hoping to showcase on the bigger stage too, but of course the World Cup will affect a fair amount of the exiled Scottish talent on show early on. The first round of fixtures last year was early October (8/9/10th) but this year will be early November, roughly three weeks post World Cup. Player rest issues may see World Cup participants held back from the early stages.
POOL TWO: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Edinburgh, Racing Metro 92
New Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley will be looking at this and thinking he could have done a lot worse (third team in the group above, for example!). Cardiff are always a stern test come Europe but beatable, and they have escaped the top French, English or Irish teams (unless you count London Irish as either of those). The exiles, while representing top Irish opposition in name only have recruited for next season and will sport a new look midfield including Scotland’s own Joe Ansbro. Cardiff of course may be marshalled by loveable rogue Dan Parks. Challenging for a spot in the Amlin should be a definite target for Edinburgh, even as one who is loathe to be too optimistic!
POOL THREE: Leinster, Bath Rugby, Glasgow Warriors, Montpellier
Bugger. Someone had to get the reigning champs I suppose, and with Bath on the rise again this will be very tough for Glasgow. Still, could be a chance to see how far Ruaridh Jackson has come since the games against Bath that put him on the Scottish Rugby map in the first place. Bath have the odd Scot, while Montpellier have a team stuffed with Argies and Georgians, so we may be familiar with some of them post-World Cup if nothing else. You could argue that beating Leinster is possible, but there is a reason that it is possible to beat them in the league – they save all their effort and energy for Europe.
POOL FOUR: Leicester, Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Aironi Rugby
Big Nathan will be looking to maintain his cup-winning ways with new club Clermont alongside old mucker Jason White (Big Jason and Big Nathan together, huzzah), but this is a tough pool even with Aironi in it (they’ve been recruiting too, bringing in some overseas talent and Italian exiles returning to the fold). The Tigers will be looking to emerge top of this group for sure but Clermont and Ulster are both capable of beating them on a good day.
POOL FIVE: Biarritz Olympique, Ospreys, Saracens, Benetton Treviso
Nikki Walker, Kelly Brown. Another even pool on paper, but it could turn out to be one of those ones that looks like it might be full of juicy encounters, but is actually the ninth game on Sky that day that you don’t really care that much about it and ends up 6-6. The end.
POOL SIX: Toulouse, Harlequins, Gloucester Rugby, Connacht Rugby
The pool with the two English teams, including Basil Redpath and Carl Hogg’s Gloucester side, against the on/off Quins and the aristos of Europe, Toulouse. Gloucester could get out of this group if they start well. A big squad like Toulose (and a lowly one like Connacht) may be untroubled by the World Cup, but Kingsholm will undoubtedly smell a little less like thistles and haggis when September comes around. The unforgiving way things are down there, Scots returning from New Zealand could find it hard to get back into the Cherry and Whites cup squads if the team are going well in the Premiership to that point.