Northampton open Heineken Cup with Munster challenge

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The Independent Online

Northampton will open their next tilt at the Heineken Cup title in a challenging pool containing European heavyweights Munster.

Saints, beaten 33-22 by Leinster in a gripping final last month, will meet the two-times winners who dumped them out in the knockout stages in 2010.

Pool 1 also includes Welsh region the Scarlets and French club Castres.

The draw has been kind to Leinster with the champions grouped alongside Bath, Glasgow and tournament debutants Montpellier.

English clubs have endured mixed fortunes, but London Irish have been granted one of the easier routes into the quarter-finals.

The Exiles will meet Cardiff Blues, who failed to reach the knockout stages this season, Edinburgh and big-spending Racing Metro in Pool 2.

Irish director of rugby Toby Booth anticipates a series of action-packed fixtures.

"We're in the group of entertainment because there's a lot of positivity there in the way the game is played," said Booth.

"Edinburgh play expansively, Racing Metro have a Harlem Globetrotters all-star line-up and Cardiff Blues only know one way to play as well.

"From that point of view it should bode for some entertaining rugby if nothing else."

Leicester have been matched with the ever-dangerous Clermont and Ulster, one of this season's quarter-finalists, with Aironi Rugby completing their group.

Aviva Premiership champions Saracens have managed to avoid any previous Heineken Cup winners, but Biarritz and Ospreys will provide challenging opposition.

Two English clubs occupy Pool Six with Harlequins and Gloucester competing with Connacht and perennial title challengers Toulouse for a spot in the last eight.

"Every team in the Heineken Cup is going to be tough, but I'm pretty happy with the draw," said Quins full-back Mike Brown.

"We know Connacht pretty well, we seem to play them every year. Toulouse are a world class team with world class players.

"We played them a couple of years ago and did all right at home.

"We take a lot of confidence from beating Munster at Thomond Park and hopefully we can do something like that again."

Pool 1: Munster, Northampton, Scarlets, Castres.

Pool 2: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Edinburgh, Racing Metro.

Pool 3: Leinster, Bath, Glasgow, Montpellier.

Pool 4: Leicester, Clermont, Ulster, Aironi Rugby.

Pool 5: Biarritz, Ospreys, Saracens, Benetton Treviso.

Pool 6: Toulouse, Harlequins, Gloucester, Connacht.