Northampton face Munster in the Heineken Cup

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The Independent Online

Heineken Cup runners-up Northampton will launch their 2011/12 European campaign with a daunting trip to two-time champions Munster in the pick of the first round fixtures.

The Heineken Cup season kicks-off on Friday, November 11 - less than three weeks after the Rugby World Cup final - with Cardiff Blues travelling to Racing Metro and Harlequins hosting tournament debutants Connacht.

The following day, Northampton tackle Munster at Thomand Park and European champions Leinster, who came from 22-6 down to beat the Saints in a remarkable final in May, launch the defence of their title away at Montpellier.

The French Top 14 finalists have confirmed the fixture will be moved to the city's 32,900-capacity Stade de la Mosson, home of the city's Ligue 1 football club.

Leinster have scheduled their round four fixture against Bath for the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, scene of their quarter-final and semi-final victories over Leicester and Toulouse, respectively, last season.

Aviva Premiership champions Saracens, who open their campaign at home to Benetton Treviso, have confirmed they will tackle the Ospreys at Wembley Stadium on December 10.

Kick-off times for the final two rounds are yet to be confirmed. The fixtures are a reversal of the opening two weekends.

The 17th Heineken Cup final will be staged at Twickenham on May 19 or 20.

Northampton drew Munster in the pool stages two years ago, winning at Franklin's Gardens before going down at Thomand Park in the final group match and again in the quarter-finals.

Forwards coach Dorian West said: "It is a difficult start for our Heineken Cup campaign but one that we will certainly be looking forward to closer to the time.

"Thomond Park is a superb rugby ground and Munster are tough to beat there, and both ourselves and Munster will be wanting to get our respective campaigns off to a good start.

"We had three good matches a couple of seasons ago and we will need to be at the top of our game if we are to get a good result in Limerick.

"At the moment everyone is working hard in training and looking forward to our warm-up games that will lead up to the new season."

Saracens have confirmed they will also play their home Aviva Premiership match against Harlequins at Wembley on March 31.

The Ospreys, who open their campaign against Biarritz, are looking forward to locking horns with Premiership champions Saracens in back-to-back fixtures in December.

"Who couldn't be excited by this fixture list?" said director of coaching Scott Johnson.

"It's fantastic, a massive home game to kick-off with against a great side. Treviso will be another difficult test, and then in December, we've got the chance to go head to head with the best in England over two weekends.

"There are four teams in the pool that on the day can beat each other. I'll be telling the boys to enjoy what will be a real challenge and a great experience."