Leinster will be up against Bath Rugby, Glasgow Warriors and “coming team” Montpellier in the Pool stages when they defend their Heineken Cup crown in the 17th tournament for the elite of European club rugby which will climax in the final at Twickenham Stadium on the weekend of 19 / 20 May, 2012.
The 2011 champions will be attempting to match Leicester Tigers and become only the second team to win back-to-back titles but coach Joe Schmidt is well aware that they will the ones everyone else will want to beat.
“Obviously I hope it is not harder to defend the title than it is to win it – we struggled to win it in the first place – but now you are the target everyone is lining up, you are sitting there to be knocked off,” said Schmidt, back home on holiday in his native New Zealand .
“Clubs already target Toulouse – they are the real bench mark – along with teams like Leicester Tigers and Munster because they have been at the top in Europe for such a long time and we know they will want to beat the champions. As for next season and who we will be up against in Pool 3 we know it is going to be tough. Bath are former Heineken Cup winners, they have a real pedigree in the tournament and showed a bit of resurgence last season, just missing out on a top four finish in the Premiership.
“And you can never take Glasgow lightly – just talk to Wasps about the threat they can be – because they are regularly a bogey side for teams at the top end of the tiers. As for Montpellier, I see them as a genuine coming team in Europe and I have a lot of respect for their coach Fabien Galthie, though I guess it largely depends on how they approach the Heineken Cup and if they are looking to take the next step up.
“But I really like their forward pack and the massive work rate of their half backs, who are among the best in France, plus some young guys really showing they are up to the mark. They have a massive ball carrier in Mamuka Gorgodze, he can be a nightmare for opponents to stop, and any team who can beat Toulon and then Castres away to qualify for the French Championship final – where they led Toulouse for such a long time – has to be a huge threat.
“Overall it looks like a great draw with the teams well spread and that we are in for another cracking tournament.”
Leinster made it two Heineken Cup titles in three years with their 33-22 victory against Northampton Saints last month with Schmidt ending his first season in charge in Dublin with the world’s most coveted club prize.
“After the final we looked at what we had done right and what we had done wrong but I guess it wasn’t until I got back to New Zealand and watched the match again with a quiet beer that it really sank in as to what we had achieved,” said Schmidt. Then I realised just what a hell of a game of footie it had been, the way things had unfolded and the presentation – what a fantastic evening. I had to pinch myself and perhaps the problem now is how you top that because I would hate us to slip off what we have achieved.”