European Champions Cup: Ulster to face Toulon and Leicester
Last updated on .From the section Irish Rugby
Ulster have been handed a brutally tough draw for the inaugural European Champions Cup after being grouped with this year's Heineken Cup winners Toulon, Leicester and the Scarlets.
Mark Anscombe's Ulster side did beat Leicester home and win in last season's Heineken Cup but in truth, there was little cheer for them from the draw.
Munster will face Saracens, Clermont Auvergne and Sale.
Leinster's opposition will be Castres, Harlequins and London Wasps.
New Munster coach Anthony Foley will face a tough task in attempting to steer his side to the knockout stages although Leinster's task looks to be considerably easier than their two Irish rivals.
Only the five group winners and the three best second-placed clubs will progress to the knockout stages of the competition.
Tuesday's draw was the latest blow for the Ravenhill outfit.
David Humphreys stunned the club over the weekend by quitting his role as director of rugby to accept a similar position at Premiership club Gloucester while Stephen Ferris was forced to retire from the game because of injury last week.
Ulster chief executive Shane Logan acknowledged that the province had been handed a "tough" draw but insisted that they have "nothing to fear".
"I'm not underestimating the task but we're getting better at winning away from home in the big games. Last year we won away to Leicester and Montpellier," said Logan.
The Ulster chief described the prospect of welcoming the defending European champions to Kingspan Stadium next season as a "mouth-watering" prospect.
"It's a magnificent fixture. We believe we have, perhaps, Europe's best stadium and we have to have Europe's best teams playing at it."
Toulon will no longer have the retired Jonny Wilkinson in their ranks but they can still can the strongest squad in European club rugby with the likes of Matt Giteau, Bakkies Botha, Steffon Armitage, James O'Connor and Leigh Halfpenny in their ranks.
Meanwhile, Connacht have been grouped with Exeter, Bayonne and La Rochelle in the Challenge Cup.
EUROPEAN CLUB DRAWS
Pool 1: Saracens, Munster, Clermont Auvergne, Sale Sharks
Pool 2: Leinster, Castres, Harlequins, Wasps
Pool 3: Toulon, Leicester, Ulster, Scarlets
Pool 4: Glasgow, Montpellier, Bath, Toulouse
Pool 5: Northampton, Racing Metro, Ospreys, Treviso
Pool 1: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, FIRA 1 qualifier
Pool 2: Exeter, Bayonne, Connacht, La Rochelle
Pool 3: Stade Francais, Newport Gwent Dragons, Newcastle, FIRA 2 qualifier
Pool 4: Edinburgh, Bordeaux-Begles, London Welsh, Lyon
Pool 5: Gloucester, Brive, Zebre, Oyonnax