Edinburgh and Glasgow learn Heineken Cup opponents
Glasgow will face the might of two-time winners Saracens in Pool 3 of the Heineken Cup, while Edinburgh have two strong French sides, Montpellier and Toulon in Pool 5.
The draw, made yesterday at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, featured both Scottish pro teams for the first time since 2013/14 after both appeared in the Guinness Pro14 play-offs at the tail end of last season.
And, for newly re-branded Edinburgh Rugby, it was a case of be careful what you wish for on their return to Europe’s top table when they drew the two French giants, as well as Newcastle Falcons.
The English side are much improved under coach Dean Richards but at least the travel will be straightforward.
Edinburgh will hope that a sizeable contingent of supporters make the short hop from the capital to Newcastle.
As Cockerill pointed out towards the end of last season, qualifying for the Heineken Cup is much more difficult when you are in the Heineken Cup given the inevitable attrition involved when playing against the best in Europe rather than the somewhat easier ride afforded by teams in the Challenge Cup.
Glasgow were pooled with two-time winners Saracens, who beat them the only time the Warriors made it into the quarter-finals of the competition in 2016/17.
However, Rennie will be relieved to have avoided the so called “pool of death”, which Glasgow were in last season, simply because there is no pool of death following this draw. The big names are reasonably evenly spread throughout the pools rather than clustered in one or two of them, although you wouldn’t want to bet your mortgage on who will top pool 2 which includes Top 14 winners Castres, Premiership finalists Exeter and perennial contenders Munster, with Gloucester looking like also rans in this exalted company.
Despite Saracens posing their own unique problems for Glasgow, the others sides in Pool 3, Lyon and the Cardiff Blues, are noticeably less intimidating. The Blues were a much-improved team last year and won the second tier Challenge Cup but they have since lost their coach Danny Wilson who fetched up as part of Gregor Townsend’s Scotland set up rather than join Wasps as he had previously agreed to do.
“The groups are always tough because you’re playing the elite teams in Europe,” said Glasgow assistant coach Kenny Murray, talking to Glasgowwarriors.org.
“I think we have quite a good group, with an English and French side, along with a Guinness PRO14 team as well. We’ve played Saracens recently and we know how tough that will be but they are certainly not unbeatable and that will be a good test for us.
“We’ve performed well against Cardiff Blues in recent times and managed to get some good wins against them but they are a team we have huge respect for.
“Lyon will be a bit of an unknown quantity to us as we’ve not played them in Europe before. They will be an interesting one to preview and with them being a Top 14 semi-finalist they will be a strong side.”
As Murray suggests Lyon are an interesting prospect. They beat Toulon in the Top 14’s quarter-final a few weeks back but only on tries scored after the two teams were tied 19-19 even after extra time.
“The Wolves” then lost 40-14 to Montpellier in the semi-final despite the game being played in Lyon. Glasgow will think that if they can pick up points from Saracens in the home tie at Scotstoun they will have a fighting chance of making the Heineken play-offs for a second time.
Last year’s winners Leinster, only the second club in history to win four European Cups, will be favourites to head pool 1 and last year’s losing finalists Racing’92, find themselves in pool 4 alongside Scarlets, Leicester Tigers and Ulster, who only scraped in after winning a play-off against the Ospreys.
The opening round of fixtures will take place on 12th/13th/14th of October with the Heineken Cup final taking place at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on 11th May, 2019.