Leinster braced for 'incredibly tough' Champions Cup pool
Leo Cullen has warned that Leinster face an "incredibly tough" pool in next season's Champions Cup after the defending champions were drawn alongside previous winners Wasps, Toulouse and Bath.
The meeting with Bath will see an immediate return to Dublin for Girvan Dempsey, who left Leinster this summer to take on a role as attack coach with Bath.
Cullen is wary of the inside knowledge that his former team-mate will have, but behind the scenes, they will be expected to emerge as pool winners.
"The way the new format of the competition has gone, the pools are incredibly difficult," Cullen said.
"We made a presentation to Girvan at the end of the season so we knew we were destined to draw against Bath.
“Wasps, who we had a couple of very tough outings against in the pool stages a couple of years ago, so we know how tough a team they are. Toulouse have won the tournament four times so they know how to do it. All the teams have won the tournament before. As always, it’s an incredibly tough pool.”
Considering Munster entered the draw as a ‘Tier 3’ club, they will be content with drawing Castres, Exeter and Gloucester.
The same cannot be said for Ulster who were handed an extremely tough pool along with Scarlets, Racing 92 and Leicester.
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The European Cup draws never fail to throw up fascinating sub-plots and next season will be no different. Paddy Jackson could be set for a sooner-than-expected return to Irish soil after his new side Perpignan were drawn alongside Connacht in the Challenge Cup. The former Ireland and Ulster out-half, whose national contract was revoked earlier this year, began pre-season training with the Top 14 side on Tuesday.
Sale Sharks, who recently pulled out of a deal to sign Jackson, are also in Pool 3, which adds to the intrigue. Dublin-born USA international, AJ MacGinty, who was a central figure in the Westerners’ PRO12 success in 2016, will also relish the chance to go back to the Sportsground.
Jackson won’t be the only player returning to these shores with something of a point to prove as Gerbrandt Grobler’s Gloucester are in the same Champions Cup pool as the club he played for last season.
The South African lock, who performed very well for Munster, came in for a lot criticism following his two-year doping ban for taking a banned anabolic steroid.
Simon Zebo is also set for a trip back to Ireland after Racing 92 were drawn alongside Ulster in what is a very tough pool with Scarlets and Leicester. Girvan Dempsey will be doing his best to upset his former club when Bath take on Leinster.
The former full-back, who spent the last eight years working as a coach with his home province, was named as Bath’s attack coach last month. The opening fixtures will be confirmed later this summer.
Heineken Champions Cup draw
Pool 1: Leinster, Wasps, Toulouse, Bath
Pool 2: Castres Olympique, Exeter Chiefs, Munster Rugby, Gloucester Rugby
Pool 3: Saracens, Glasgow Warriors, Lyon, Cardiff Blues
Pool 4: Scarlets, Racing 92, Leicester Tigers, Ulster Rugby
Pool 5: Montpellier, Newcastle Falcons, Edinburgh Rugby, RC Toulon
Challenge Cup draw
Pool 1: Northampton Saints, Clermont Auvergne, Dragons, Timisoara Saracens
Pool 2: Pau, Ospreys, Worcester Warriors, Stade Français Paris
Pool 3: Sale Sharks, Connacht Rugby, Bordeaux-Bègles, Perpignan
Pool 4: La Rochelle, Zebre Rugby Club, Bristol Bears, Enisei-STM
Pool 5: Benetton Rugby, Harlequins, Agen, Grenoble