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Little wriggle room for Ulster as Northampton and Clermont await in Champions Cup


Dan McFarland. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Dan McFarland. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Dan McFarland. Credit: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The attempted fanfare for next season’s European draw lost some of its intended volume thanks to the Lions departing from their schedule but then, again, such occasions are just not that exciting anyway.  

It hardly helped that the 24 teams in next season’s Heineken Cup only had so many options in terms of who they would be drawn against through the system of tiers for what is again a European structure made up of two pools of 12 teams each.

In Pool A, Ulster have landed Northampton Saints and Clermont Auvergne for what is planned to be four rounds of action, home and away, with the opening shots fired on the weekend of December 10-12.

At the conclusion of the pool games in late January, the top eight sides from their respective pools will move to the last 16 stage, the plan being to have home and away legs for this round alone.

The nature of the draw gives Ulster little enough wriggle room unless they put together some consistent performances.

As is the way in the professional game, the province will be encountering someone who has previously spent time at the Kingspan with Ulster’s former assistant coach Jonno Gibbes – he became head coach but only saw out the season after Les Kiss’s early departure in early 2018 – having re-joined Clermont this summer after a stint at La Rochelle where the Kiwi and Ronan O’Gara came up short in last season’s Champions Cup final against Toulouse.

Both Clermont and the Saints are well enough known to Dan McFarland’s squad. Ulster previously met the French side in the pool stages of 2019-20 .

Ulster will be rather more familiar with the Saints having beaten them 35-27 at Franklin’s Gardens last April to book their place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals.

The action begins on the weekend of December 10-12 with the plan to complete the final round on January 21-23. Round two is scheduled for December 17-19 with round three on January 14-16.

Exact dates will be announced at a later point with the overriding hope being that Covid does not end up reshaping another campaign.

Following the round of 16, the Heineken Cup reaches the more familiar point of quarter-finals etc with the final planned for May 28 in Marseille.

Elsewhere in Pool A, Leinster have been drawn with Montpellier and Bath, In Pool B, Munster have Castres and Wasps while Connacht are up against Stade Francais and Leicester Tigers.

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