The draw for the Heineken Cup pool stages was made this afternoon in Dublin and Ireland's four proud provinces were met with contrasting fortunes.
Three-time champions Leinster were landed in Pool 1, one of the tougher pools, with beaten English Premiership finalists, Northampton as well as French Top 14 champions Castres Olympique and Welsh region the Ospreys keeping them company. New Leinster coach, Matt O'Connor, will have plenty to think about, in preparation for a tilt at regaining the Heineken Cup crown. By contrast, Munster coach Rob Penney will be quietly pleased and optimistic that his side can overcome the challenges put to them by their Pool 6 opponents, Perpignan, Edinburgh Rugby and Gloucester. Edinburgh fell at the pool stages last year, twice losing to Munster, while neither Perpignan or Gloucester featured in the Heineken Cup last season.
Ulster find themselves in another tough pool, despite their top tier seeding. In Pool 5, Ulster will resume rivalries with Leicester Tigers, both sides perished at the quarter-final stages last season, while Gareth Anscombe will have to plot a way around another 2012-13 quarter-finalist, Montpellier and improving Italian side Benetton Treviso. Finally, new Connacht coach Pat Lam will be facing up to the challenge of French giants, Toulouse, and 2012-13 semi-finalists Saracens in Pool 3. While both of these opponents provide a daunting challenge, the men from the west will be eager to add to their four wins from last season over their other pool opponent, Italian side Zebre.
Both of last year's finalists feature in the other two pools. Champions RC Toulon head up Pool 2 alongside Welsh region, Cardiff Blues, beaten Rabo Pro 12 semi-finalists, Glasgow Warriors and Englishmen, Exeter Chiefs. In Pool 4, Clermont Auvergne's reward for reaching their first final is to be plunged into a Group of Death, with last season's semi-finalists Harlequins and Welsh side Scarlets.
Heineken Cup 2013-2014 Draw
ASM Clermont Auvergne
Amlin Challenge Cup Draw
I Cavilieri Prato