Munster get short straw in Champions Cup pool draw

Munster have been left holding the short straw for next season's Heineken Champions Cup with the two-time champions plunged into the clichéd 'Pool of Death' after today's draw in Lausanne.

Johann van Graan's side will face defending champions Saracens, who followed up their win over Leinster in Newcastle last month with the Gallagher Premiership title, a Racing 92 side that is flush with ambition and money, and PRO14 rivals Ospreys.

It could, arguably, have been worse had Montpellier been shunted into their pool instead of the Welsh region but that 'escape' will make for little comfort as the province digests the road it must travel next season.

What the draw also means is that Ronan O'Gara, newly installed as head coach with La Rochelle, will not face any of the four Irish provinces in the pool stages. They will instead face Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors and Sale Sharks.

By no means an easy group but not as difficult as Munster's either.

Saracens experienced a blip in Europe two seasons ago when losing twice and drawing once in the pool stages before suffering elimination at the hands of Leinster at the Aviva Stadium at the quarter-final stage.

That apart they have been almost exemplary in Europe in recent times, claiming three of the last four titles and winning 26 of their 27 games in the seasons when they finished as champions. The other game was drawn, by the way – away to Scarlets in late 2016.

Racing 92 have been a major player in the competition this past few years as well.

Jacky Lorenzetti's mega-rich Parisians were unlucky to lose the final to Leinster in Bilbao 13 months ago and they lost out to Toulouse by a point at the last eight stage during the season just passed. They will feel there is much more in them.

Fourth in this season's Top 14 table – 24 points behind the table-topping Toulouse – they fell at home to La Rochelle in the first play-off round, but will again have Munster old boys Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo on board in 2019-20.

Ospreys return to the Champions Cup after a year spent in the wilderness that is the Challenge Cup last time out and qualify by dint of an unimpressive fourth-placed finish in Pool A of the Guinness PRO14.

If Munster will be gritting their teeth at the fate presented to them then Leinster will be (quietly) thrilled with their surroundings in Pool 1. Lyon have no European pedigree, Northampton Saints have done nothing since reaching the 2011 final and Benetton are clearly beatable.

Incredibly, this is the first time that Leinster have been paired with an Italian side in 15 years but their easier draw was always likely given they were ranked a tier one side as opposed to Munster who were tier two.

Another in that second line of seeds was Ulster who have been paired with Top 14 runners-up Clermont Auvergne for the third time in eight seasons. Harlequins and Bath complete Pool 3. A best runners-up spot may not be beyond them.

Connacht, back in the Champions Cup for a fifth time, face two daunting trips to France. Placed in the third strata of seeds, Andy Friend's side will pit themselves against Toulouse and Montpellier. Gloucester complete Pool 5.

POOL1:

Leinster, Lyon, Northampton Saints and Benetton

POOL 2:

Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle and Sale Sharks

POOL 3:

Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Harlequins and Bath

POOL 4:

Saracens, Munster, Racing 92 and Ospreys

POOL 5:

Toulouse, Gloucester, Connacht and Montpellier

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