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Bath and Wasps in tough Euro group

Bath and Wasps will join European Champions Cup holders Toulon and Irish province Leinster in a real heavyweight pool in next season's competition.

The Aviva Premiership pair were drawn in Pool Five of the 2015-16 competition and there were gasps at the draw in the Neuchatel auditorium in Switzerland when Toulon and Leinster joined them.

Big spending Toulon have been champions of Europe for the last three years and beat fellow French club Clermont-Auvergne in the final of last season's competition at Twickenham.

Leinster have also been champions of Europe three times and ended Bath's interest in the competition at the quarter-final stage last term before succumbing to Toulon in the semi-final.

Aviva Premiership champions Saracens also have a tough draw in Pool One, where they have Ulster, four-time European kings Toulouse and French newcomers Oyonnax for company.

Clermont's attempt to go one better next season will be tested at the group stage by Welsh region Ospreys and Aviva Premiership side Exeter Chiefs.

They are joined in Pool Two by French side Bordeaux-Begles, who came through the play-offs to book their Champions Cup place.

Two-time European champions Leicester are in Pool Four alongside French champions Stade Francais and Munster, and the trio will seek to take advantage of Benetton Treviso - the only Italian side in the competition - being in their section.

Northampton were paired alongside PRO12 champions Glasgow, French side Racing 92 and Welsh outfit Scarlets in Pool Three.

European Professional Club Rugby confirmed at the draw that next season's Champions Cup final will take place at the Grand Stade de Lyon on May 14, with the Challenge Cup final played at the same venue the previous day.

It was also confirmed that the two competitions' 2017 finals will be played at Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh.

Bath head coach Mike Ford said he was delighted his side would be tested by the best in a competition which has a later start date in mid-November because of this autumn's Rugby World Cup in England.

"European competition is the pinnacle of club rugby and we're really excited to have been drawn against three former champions of the competition," he told the official Bath website.

"Each team presents their own challenges, and while we may be more familiar with Wasps, it means we know just how competitive they can be.

"We want to test ourselves against the best and can't wait for the challenge that awaits."

Saracens reached the Champions Cup semi-finals last season and will renew acquaintances with Ulster opponents who they met in consecutive European quarter-finals in 2013 and 2014.

Director of Rugby Mark McCall told the Saracens website: "Once again the draw has pitted us against some of the strongest sides in Europe.

"Playing in the Champions Cup you expect to be playing against the best Europe has to offer, and I think if you look across all of the pools you can see that.

"Ulster are a team that we know very well. They are one of the best in Europe and we've had some classic battles with them in recent years.

"I know how tough a place the Kingspan Stadium can be when it's rocking on a European night, so to be facing them is a real challenge for us but one that we're all very excited by."

Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter described his side's draw as "fantastic" as they prepare to return to Europe's top club competition for the first time in two years.

"The good thing about it is that we're facing a couple of trips that we've not experienced before, as well as going back to Clermont again," Baxter told the club's official website.

"Obviously we've faced the Ospreys before in the LV= Cup but both times they were here at Sandy Park. So I think that's good for not only our supporters but also the Ospreys supporters that we will get to play them up at their place.

"As for Clermont, I think everybody who went over there a couple of years ago knows how great and how special that trip was. It's a fantastic rugby city and they are widely regarded as one of the best club sides in European rugby.

"It's funny, I was only watching the seventh-placed game between Bordeaux and Gloucester the other week and the commentator mentioned how Bordeaux are one of the best supported clubs in France, getting crowds of like 30,000 and I thought at the time, 'that wouldn't be a bad trip to add to the list'.

"Looking at some of the other groups, I'd wouldn't say it's the worst in the world for us. I think it's a fantastic draw for us."

Wales' two representatives, Ospreys and Scarlets, might also feel it was a kind draw as they managed to avoid some of Europe's real big guns.

"We showed some real growth in Europe last season, secured strong victories over Leicester Tigers and Ulster at home and bounced back from some disappointing results on the road," Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac told the official club website.

"Glasgow is a team that I've come up against last season in the Guinness Pro 12 but Northampton Saints and Racing will be new opponents for myself as head coach."


From Belfast Telegraph