Days after his Racing 92 side became champions of France, former Munster hero O’Gara has been handed a return to Thomond Park before Christmas, where he will plot the downfall of the team he led to a two Heineken Cup triumphs.
Munster have been handed a tough task in the European Champions Cup draw, having sweated on qualification in the first place.
As well as the Parisians, they are joined in Pool 1 by Glasgow Warriors and Leicester, an assignment team manager Niall O’Donovan described as a “tough challenge.”
O’Donovan added: “Looking at the three sides they have all experienced Thomond Park before and will have no fear coming over to us, and of course Racing Metro with the Ronan O’Gara influence, he will have them well briefed on us.
“They are the French club champions for a reason and they don’t come bigger than that.”
“But this is what this competition is about — it’s the top 20 clubs in European Rugby competing for the highest accolade so we didn’t expect any less and every pool presents its own challenges. There are no easy groups in this, everybody is fighting to get to the knock-out stages.
“As always our European journey is hugely exciting for the squad and our supporters and although we haven’t achieved what we wanted in the last two seasons our supporters have always stood by us, whether it’s France, Italy, England or Thomond Park they turn out in huge numbers and get behind the team.
“We’ll treat our campaign no different to previous seasons and take it round by round, and while getting through the pool stages is always a massive challenge we need to ensure we put in a performance on each occasion.”
Connacht’s return to the European top tier will see them play a pair of European champions in Wasps and Toulouse, as well as the Italians Zebre.
“Firstly, it was just fantastic to have been part of the draw and to have earned the right to be there. We’re excited by who was drawn in our pool,” said head coach Pat Lam
“Zebre, who we play year on year in the PRO12 and who we have met in Europe before, are always a tough challenge for us and we want to maintain our record against them.
“With Wasps and Toulouse, we have two previous winners in Europe so that sets up a great challenge for us.
“We certainly will back ourselves to prepare well and the aim for us is to reach the knockout stages.”
Leinster also went into a tough group against Montpellier, Northampton Saints, and Castres, although they have met and beaten all three in recent years.
Head coach Leo Cullen picked out Montpellier as a “huge threat” to Leinster’s prospects in the competition.
“Under Jake White they have pumped huge resources into the club and have recruited heavily with a big South African flavour to their squad and a hell of a lot of international experience across the board so they are going to be a huge threat to us.”
Ulster are in Pool 5 against Exeter, Clermont Auvergne, and Begles-Bordeaux.
It will be the battle of Johnny Sexton’s Ireland understudies as Paddy Jackson takes on Bordeaux-bound Ian Madigan while fellow Irishmen Ian Whitten and Gareth Steenson will look to guide Exeter to the knockout stages once again.
Ulster coach Les Kiss felt the draw could have been kinder. “We’re up against Exeter who were second in England last season, great team, very inventive and very abrasive, we get to meet them in pre-season so we could get an idea of what to expect.
“Clermont, well, what do you say about them, they’re hugely difficult opponents and Bordeaux, well, we won’t be taking them for granted for sure.
“All in all, this is a very difficult group but then I wouldn’t have thought anything would have been easy anyway.
“Look, this is a very tough competition and each and every one of the teams involved have worked their way and deserved to get into the competition.”
Peter Stringer will return to the top tier when Sale Sharks join current champions Saracens, Toulon and Scarlets in the ‘Pool of Death’.
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