'Group of Death' does not hold any fears for Irish after Heineken Cup draw

Toby Booth, the London Irish head coach, has branded his side's Heineken Cup pool the "Group of Death" following the draw in Cardiff yesterday.

The Exiles were drawn alongside two-time champions Munster, Magners League winners Ospreys and Jonny Wilkinson's ambitious Toulon, who will play in the tournament for the first time.

Each member of that pool has legitimate designs on lifting the trophy at the Millennium Stadium next May, but as many as three of them face the prospect of failing even to reach the quarter-finals.

"Normally when the Heineken Cup draw is made there is a 'Group of Death' and it looks like Pool Three will be that group this year," Booth said. "There is no denying that it will be challenging but if you want to be associated with the best teams in Europe, as London Irish does, then you have to test yourself against the very best and we certainly will be doing that next season."

Both Munster and the Ospreys reached the knockout phase last season, where they were both eliminated by beaten finalists Biarritz, while cash-rich Toulon's rise in European rugby saw them qualify for the Amlin Cup final, which they lost to Cardiff Blues.

The Ospreys head coach, Sean Holley, has guided his side to the last-eight in each of the past three seasons and is optimistic of repeating the dose despite their tough draw.

"It is European rugby's elite tournament and you have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and face some big challenges," Holley said. "Toulon were always going to be the wildcard – they have huge resources though and I've no doubt that they will be even stronger next season.

"London Irish are a very good side, well coached and full of potential. Munster are a European heavyweight and it will be good to have the big crowds and big occasions associated with the tradition they have."

The Saracens coach Brendan Venter hinted his side could play their home matches at Wembley after last season's beaten Guinness Premiership finalists were drawn with 2009 winners Leinster, French champions Clermont-Auvergne and first-timers Racing-Metro. Wembley was used as a Guinness Premiership venue last season, but has never hosted Europe's premier club competition.

"It's a big competition and we want to be playing the big teams," Venter said. "A couple of our group matches may be played at Wembley, and we can all look forward to a couple of fantastic European occasions at the national stadium."

He added: "Leinster are a top European team with plenty of experience, Clermont Auvergne are the current French champions and Racing Metro certainly don't lack ambition – they will all provide tough opposition home and away. Make no mistake, so will we. It will be a magnificent contest."

Wasps face a tough return to the Heineken Cup after a year away as they were drawn to face defending champions Toulouse, who beat Biarritz 21-19 in last month's final, as well as Magners League duo Glasgow and Newport Gwent Dragons.

Guinness Premiership winners Leicester, who failed to progress out of their group last term, will be favoured to reach the quarter-finals. Beaten Top 14 finalists Perpignan loom as their toughest challenge with Scarlets and Italy's Treviso, who will join the Magners League next season, making up the group.

Northampton were the only one of seven English side's to reach the quarter-finals last season and director of rugby Jim Mallinder was confident of repeating that performance. Saints were handed a friendly draw against Amlin Cup champions Cardiff Blues, Edinburgh and Castres.

"It is a promising draw for us," said Mallinder. "We have ambitions of becoming one of Europe's top teams that reaches the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup on a regular basis and this group is wide open.

"Cardiff showed how far they have come by winning the Challenge Cup in a hostile atmosphere against Toulon and Edinburgh have improved a great deal over the last few years.

"And any trip to France is tough, especially to a place like Castres. This season they beat both Toulouse and Biarritz, which shows that they have to be taken seriously too."

Steve Meehan's Bath finished rock bottom of their group last season with one win and face a tough ask to get through.

They were again drawn with Ulster with beaten finalists Biarritz confirming a difficult group that is rounded out by new Italian franchise Aironi.

The pool stages of next seasons's Heineken Cup begin in October with the final to be played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on the weekend of May 21-22


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?