Friday 23 February 2018

Ryan in line for Thomond return as Reds draw Racing

Sean (left) and Dan O’Connor, whose father John – originally from Tralee – died in the 2011 earthquake, during a the Lions visit to the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial in Christchurch. Photo: Sportsfile
Sean (left) and Dan O’Connor, whose father John – originally from Tralee – died in the 2011 earthquake, during a the Lions visit to the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial in Christchurch. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After an emotionally draining end to the season in which Donnacha Ryan bade a fond farewell to a place he has called home for all 33 years of his life, the talismanic lock would have been hoping to put rugby on the back burner for a few weeks at least.

Getting left out of the Ireland tour afforded Ryan such a luxury that in truth he would rather not have had but after yesterday's Champions Cup draw, the reality that he will be making a return to Thomond Park as a visitor next season will soon have brought it all back home again.

For the second successive season, Munster were drawn alongside Racing 92 in the pool stages. It just had to happen this way.

Emotional

Ryan can look to Ronan O'Gara for advice on how to deal with was is sure to be an emotional return and while the legendary out-half may have mistakenly walked into the home dressing on his last return, sitting in the coaches' box is an altogether different challenge to playing on the pitch.

Leicester Tigers will arrive in Limerick for a third season in a row with Castres completing Pool 4. Matt O'Connor is back at the English club and will relish the opportunity to return to Ireland and prove his many doubters wrong. As will Dominic Ryan who will join the Tigers next season.

All told, it is a tough draw for Rassie Erasmus' side, who will face two tricky away trips to France - the timing of both will be key.

"Playing two of the three pool sides for consecutive seasons will be a real test of how far ourselves, Leicester and Racing have come in a year," Erasmus said.

"While delighted to do so well in last season's competition, we know that we have much to work on and all three sides will pose a massive challenge.

"Like I said last year, we would have been seen as the easy draw; instead our guys topped their pool and reached the semi-final of the competition. Anything can happen in cup rugby and that's the challenge everyone faces."

Leinster were also handed a tricky draw in Pool 3 alongside newly-crowned Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs, Montpellier and Glasgow. Exeter include former Ulster duo Gareth Steenson and Ian Whitten and are expected to strengthen their squad over the summer.

Leo Cullen's side easily saw off Montpellier at home in last season's competition but came unstuck in France. Glasgow may well go through a transitional period under highly-rated Kiwi coach Dave Rennie who arrives from the Chiefs to replace Gregor Townsend.

Ulster's new-look coaching ticket will have to contend with Wasps, La Rochelle and Harlequins in Pool 1.

Les Kiss knows that he is under big pressure to deliver next season but the draw could have been a lot worse for his side.

"It's a very exciting pool, I've got to say," Kiss enthused. "You look at what Wasps can deliver and the type of rugby they play, it's quite formidable really."

Marty Moore will get another chance to impress when he returns with Wasps, while La Rochelle surprised plenty of people when they finished at the summit of the Top14, only to be narrowly beaten in the semi-finals by Toulon.

Connacht's disappointing campaign has left them without Champions Cup rugby next season but they did at least avoid another dreaded trip to Russia in the Challenge Cup.

Incoming coach Kieran Keane yesterday added David Howarth as the Westerners' new head of athletic performance and they will have to hit the ground running against Donncha O'Callaghan's Worcester, Mike Prendergast's Oyonnax and Brive.

The dates for the fixtures in both competitions will be confirmed by the EPCR during the summer as all roads lead to Bilbao next May.

Irish Independent

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