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Exiles rule out stadium switch

London Irish have rejected any thoughts of moving their high-profile Heineken Cup ties away from the Madejski Stadium in the hope of creating a hostile home environment.

The Exiles open their daunting campaign in the so-called group of death at home to two-time European champions Munster on October 9.

Jonny Wilkinson's star-studded Toulon are in Reading on December 12, while London Irish will host Magners League champions Ospreys on the second weekend of January.

Saracens, who face French champions Clermont Auvergne, Leinster and Racing Metro, are currently in negotiations about which games they can take to Wembley Stadium this season.

But London Irish will not be moving any of their group matches to Twickenham in the hope of maximising home advantage at the 24,000-capacity 'Mad Stad'.

"We are relishing the challenge of the Heineken Cup. Doing battle with the best of the best on our own turf guarantees a true test of how far we have come in recent years and some great rugby," said Exiles director of rugby Toby Booth.

"We need to leave our visitors in no doubt that the Madejski is a London Irish stronghold.

"I ask all of our supporters to get behind the squad, fill the stadium three times over and show that we are a true force to be reckoned with both on and off the pitch."

Leinster's opener on the same day is not much easier as they face big-spending Racing-Metro 92 at home, while Ulster welcome Italian newcomers Aironi -- who will also play in the Magners -- to Ravenhill on October 8.

"Home advantage is important but can also bring its own pressures, particularly in round one, but London Irish will prove a massive challenge," said Munster coach Tony McGahan.

"They were just edged out of a place in the (Guinness Premiership) play-offs last season and prior to that lost narrowly in the semi-final. We recognise the quality of the opposition we face.

"There are no weak sides: each of them, I believe, is well capable of winning the competition, certainly all well capable of getting results on the road. It's easily the most competitive cup tournament in world club rugby."

Champions Toulouse open their defence with a home clash against former winners Wasps on October 10.

Toulon will make their competition debut at home to the Ospreys in a glamourous tie on October 9. On the same day, Saracens travel to Clermont, while Pool Two rivals Leinster host competition newcomers Racing Metro.

Glasgow and Newport Gwent Dragons will do battle on the Friday night.

In Pool Five, English champions Leicester travel to Benetton Treviso and the Scarlets host Perpignan.

Northampton open up at home to Castres on October 8 and director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: "It's good that we're starting off with a home tie but we will have to make it count.

"Home form is crucial in the Heineken Cup if you want to progress to the quarter-finals and we will have to get off to a win over Castres. But it should be a good occasion."

Also in Pool One, last season's Amlin Challenge Cup winner Cardiff Blues open their campaign at home to Edinburgh.

Biarritz's former Bath full-back Iain Balshaw will return his former home of The Rec on October 10.


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