Saints face testing Cup opener at Biarritz

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The reward for Northampton's Heineken Cup triumph at the end of May is a tough-looking start to their defence at Biarritz in their opening Pool 1 match at the beginning of October.

The reward for Northampton's Heineken Cup triumph at the end of May is a tough-looking start to their defence at Biarritz in their opening Pool 1 match at the beginning of October.

Pat Lam, the Saints captain and teak-hard hero who played through the 9-8 European Cup victory over Munster at Twickenham with a shoulder injury, greeted yesterday's news with relish.

"The minute we walk out there to face Biarritz the Heineken Cup is no longer ours," Lam said. "And we will have to start all over again and try to win it. This is a tough start, but I am really looking forward to this season.

"I have had some time off for the first time in a long while, ordinarily I would have been playing for Samoa in the Pacific Rim tournament. Because of the break my shoulder is 100 per cent, I can now do press-ups. I will be testing it out at the Middlesex Sevens next month."

For the Saints coach, John Steele, the tie has its plus side: "In non-rugby terms it is fantastic to be able to go to the south of France. Unfortunately they are a an extremely good side and will be formidable at home. This fixture merely underlines the fact that there are no easy games at the top."

There are equally appetising ties in other groups, Saracens, for example, will start their campaign at Toulouse, Leicester Tigers entertain Pau, Bath are at home to Castres and Gloucester travel to the cauldron of Stradey Park where they have to take on Llanelli.

There are four rounds of Pool matches scheduled to run in October with the remaining two earmarked for January, then at the end of that month the quarter finals will take place. The semi-finals are in late April with the final sometime on the weekend of 19-20 May at a venue to be arranged.

HEINEKEN CUP FIXTURES

ROUND 1

6,7,8 October: Pool 1: Biarritz v Northampton; Edinburgh Reivers v Leinster. Pool 2: Stade Français v L'Aquila; Wasps v Swansea. Pool 3: Toulouse v Saracens; Ulster v Cardiff. Pool 4: Munster v Newport; Bath v Castres. Pool 5: Llanelli v Gloucester; Roma v Colomiers. Pool 6: Pontypridd v Glasgow Caledonians; Leicester v Pau.

ROUND 2

13,14,15 October: Pool 1: Northampton v Edinburgh Reivers; Leinster v Biarritz. Pool 2: L'Aquila v Wasps; Swansea v Stade Français. Pool 3: Saracens v Ulster; Cardiff v Toulouse. Pool 4: Newport v Bath; Castres v Munster. Pool 5: Gloucester v Roma; Colomiers v Llanelli. Pool 6: Glasgow Caledonians v Leicester; Pau v Pontypridd.

ROUND 3

20,21,22 October: Pool 1: Biarritz v Edinburgh Reivers; Northampton v Leinster. Pool 2: Stade Français v Wasps; L'Aquila v Swansea. Pool 3: Toulouse v Ulster; Saracens v Cardiff. Pool 4: Munster v Bath; Newport v Castres. Pool 5: Llanelli v Roma; Gloucester v Colomiers. Pool 6: Pontypridd v Leicester; Glasgow Caledonians v Pau.

ROUND 4

27,28,29 October: Pool 1: Edinburgh Reivers v Biarritz; Leinster v Northampton. Pool 2: Wasps v Stade Français; Swansea v L'Aquila. Pool 3: Ulster v Toulouse; Cardiff v Saracens. Pool 4: Bath v Munster; Castres v Newport. Pool 5: Roma v Llanelli; Colomiers v Gloucester. Pool 6: Leicester v Pontypridd; Pau v Glasgow Caledonians.

ROUND 5

12,13,14 January, 2001: Pool 1: Northampton v Biarritz; Leinster v Edinburgh Reivers. Pool 2: L'Aquila v Stade Français; Swansea v Wasps. Pool 3: Saracens v Toulouse; Cardiff v Ulster. Pool 4: Newport v Munster; Castres v Bath. Pool 5: Gloucester v Llanelli; Colomiers v Roma. Pool 6: Glasgow Caledonians v Pontypridd; Pau v Leicester.

ROUND 6

19,20,21 January: Pool 1: Edinburgh Reivers v Northampton; Biarritz v Leinster. Pool 2: Wasps v L'Aquila; Stade Français v Swansea. Pool 3: Ulster v Saracens; Toulouse v Cardiff. Pool 4: Bath v Newport; Munster v Castres. Pool 5: Roma v Gloucester; Llanelli v Colomiers. Pool 6: Leicester v Glasgow Caledonians; Pontypridd v Pau.

Quarter-Finals: 26,27,28 Jan;

Semi-finals: 20,21,22 April;

Final: 19 or 20 May

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