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Holders Gloucester face Worcester

Published 17/06/2015

Gloucester's Jonny May celebrates European Champions Cup success last season.
Gloucester's Jonny May celebrates European Champions Cup success last season.

European Challenge Cup holders Gloucester have been drawn with local rivals Worcester Warriors in the group stages of the 2015-16 competition.

The draw at European Professional Club Rugby's headquarters in Switzerland pitted Gloucester, who beat Edinburgh in last season's final, newly-promoted Aviva Premiership side Worcester, French side La Rochelle and Italian outfit Zebre in Pool 4.

Newcastle Falcons are joined in Pool 1 by Irish province Connacht, French club Brive and Russian newcomers Enisei-STM.

Sale Sharks and Newport Gwent Dragons have two French clubs, Castres and Pau, for company in Pool 2 while Pool 3 has a formidable look about it.

Jake White's Montpellier side will be joined by Harlequins, Cardiff Blues and Italian outfit Calvisano.

Edinburgh, London Irish and French duo Grenoble and Agen are in Pool 5.

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Gloucester director of rugby David Humphreys said opponents this season would be determined to beat the Cherry and Whites as Challenge Cup holders.

"We know that, as winners of last year's tournament, teams will be out to beat us," he told the official Gloucester website.

"But we are massively proud of the way we performed in last year's tournament and we are excited to defend our crown.

"Our supporters are fantastic in the way that they embrace the draw and I have no doubt they are already looking at travel plans for the pool stages.

"It is that support that makes a real difference when we are playing in Europe."

Gloucester's Challenge Cup triumph was their first piece of silverware since 2011 as they won all six pool games before beating Connacht and Exeter at the knock-out stage and they eventually overcame Edinburgh 19-13 in the Twickenham Stoop final.

Now the defence of their trophy will start with trips to France and Italy and a short journey up the M5 to face Dean Ryan's Worcester.

"First of all with La Rochelle, as we have learned over the last few years, going to France is never easy and the Stade Marcel Deflandre is renowned for a great, hostile atmosphere," added Humphreys.

"We learned a lot about our squad with the two trips to Oyonnax and Brive last season, and we will be tested again this year against a La Rochelle team that have claimed some impressive scalps in their second season in the Top 14 after promotion.

"We also know all about Zebre Rugby, who have recruited well, and they are definitely an improving team.

"And with Worcester returning to the Premiership it will be an exciting pair of games again, among a host of big games for us next season."

Sale hope to draw on a lucky omen after being reunited with Pau, the French side they beat when they won the trophy in 2005 at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford.

"It's a tough group to be in," Sharks coach Steve Diamond told the club website after being paired with French duo Pau and Castres and Welsh side Newport Gwent Dragons, who got to the semi-final of last year's competition.

"The competition will be intense to qualify for the quarter-finals, but if we get it right I'm sure we will progress."

London Irish will have an opportunity to avenge their quarter-final defeat to Edinburgh last season and also know Grenoble and Agen well.

"The European Challenge Cup is proving to be a very competitive tournament and next season will be even more so," London Irish operations director Bob Casey told the club website.

"We've been drawn with three great clubs and we've played them all in recent seasons, so we know how difficult it will be to progress to the knock-out stage."

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