The Champions Cup and Challenge Cup draws in Nyon has their fair share of shocks all building up to an intriguing season of European rugby
Rugby’s administrators, journalists and TV crews assembled in Neuchâtel for the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup draw, where it was left to Wales and Lions wing Ieuan Evans and 98-cap French hooker Raphael Ibanez to pull out the balls and spring a few surprises for next year’s tournament.
First there was the surprise announcement that the 2016 Cup Final would take place in Lyon’s new 59,000 capacity Stade des Lumieres, which is in construction for next summer’s European Championship – it is the first time the competition has strayed from a rugby ground. With last year’s all-French final a tough sell at Twickenham, the Final will also be held two weeks later in May to allow organisers time to shift tickets. The Top 14 have dominated the competition in recent years, so few would bet against an all-French affair for next year’s tournament? For 2017 it was announced it will be Murrayfield’s turn to host Europe’s blue riband event for the first time since 2009.
Champions Cup draw 2015/16
Due to the Rugby World Cup, the competition will start off later this year, on the weekend of November 14/15. The standout Pool of the draw is Pool 5, where the reigning three-time Champions Toulon have been grouped with Bath, Wasps and Leinster. The teams competing have won the Cup a staggering nine times between them.
One side who will be relatively happy with their draw will be this year’s beaten finalists, Clermont Auvergne, who will fancy their chances against Exeter Chiefs, the Ospreys and Bordeaux-Begles. As for England’s best performing side in the last few years, Saracens, they will have to navigate their way past Ulster and Toulouse.
Another intriguing group is Pool 4 which has new Top 14 champions Stade Francais going into battle against previous winners Leicester and Munster.
Pool 1: Saracens, Ulster, Toulouse, Oyonnax
Pool 2: Clermont, Ospreys, Exeter Chiefs, Bordeaux-Begles
Pool 3: Glasgow, Northampton Saints, Racing 92, Scarlets
Pool 4: Stade Francais, Munster, Leicester Tigers, Treviso
Pool 5: Bath, Toulon, Leinster, Wasps
Challenge Cup draw 2015/16
In the Challenge Cup, most eyes were on Pool 3, which features Montpellier, Harlequins and Cardiff Blues. It will certainly be an emotional tie for new Quins centre, and Cardiff boy Jamie Roberts when he returns home.
Elsewhere, it will be time to pack extra clothing and rack up the airmiles for the clubs in Pool 1 who will be travelling to Enisei-STM in Siberia. Newcastle Falcons, Brive and Connacht will be taking a step into the unknown.
The reigning champions, Gloucester, would appear to have a good chance of emerging from the group, with newly promoted Worcester Warriors, Zebre and the Top 14’s La Rochelle in their way.
Pool 1: Connacht, Brive, Newcastle Falcons, Enisei-STM
Pool 2: Sale Sharks, Newport-Gwent Dragons, Castres, Pau
Pool 3: Montpellier, Harlequins, Cardiff Blues, Calvisano
Pool 4: La Rochelle, Gloucester, Zebre, Worcester Warriors
Pool 5: Edinburgh, London Irish, Grenoble, Agen