By Paul Jones
Ospreys head coach Toby Booth insists he is looking forward to his team testing themselves against the best after their daunting draw for next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
The region’s reward for winning the Welsh Shield in the URC is a Heineken Champions Cup draw against French champions Montpellier and English champions Leicester Tigers.
The draws for both the Champions Cup and the European Challenge Cup were made in Dublin, venue for both finals on 19 and 20 May next year, and included for the first time five teams from South Africa.
Newly crowned URC champions the Stormers will meet ASM Clermont Auvergne and London Irish in Pool B, while runners-up the Bulls will clash with Exeter Chiefs and Challenge Cup holders Lyon. The Sharks will face Bordeaux-Begles and Harlequins.
Booth said: “We want to test ourselves against the best, there’s two of the best right there. I’m very familiar with Leicester.
“Europe, you talk about the difference in competitions, it’s not the norm, we get used to the surroundings around us, we know the opposition well, there is just a different edge to the European competition.
“Obviously with the URC [United Rugby Championship] champions as well, the South African influences as well, the level of competition is going up, and that’s exciting – and an extreme challenge but one we look forward to.”
I thought the Challenge cup was a head fudge of a competition…. Step up the Heineken Cup! It’s like some extreme puzzle that would frazzle a Krypton factor champions noggin pic.twitter.com/thGfhDRrvX
— BathBytes (@BathBytes) June 28, 2022
All 44 clubs in EPCR’s tournaments, including five first-time representatives from South Africa, now know their opponents for the 2022/23 season following the pool draws for the Heineken Champions Cup and EPCR Challenge Cup which were staged today (Tuesday 28 June) at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
The Heineken Champions Cup holders, La Rochelais, will meet Northampton Saints and Ulster in Pool B, while runners-up and four time champions, Leinster, will go head-to-head with Gloucester and Racing 92 in Pool A.
The other three Welsh regions all feature in the Challenge Cup next season, Cardiff Rugby in Pool A and the Scarlets and Dragons in Pool B. Two-time winners Cardiff will meet Brive and Newcastle Falcons.
The Scarlets will face Bayonne and the fifth South African team, the Cheetahs, who will play their ‘home’ matches in Europe. The Dragons will come up against Pau and Wasps.
For the Heineken Champions Cup draw, the 24 qualified clubs were in four tiers based on their rankings from the TOP 14, Gallagher Premiership and the URC, before being drawn into two pools of 12 – Pool A and Pool B. Clubs from the same league in the same tier were not drawn into the same pool.
The Tier 1 and the Tier 4 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away over four pool stage rounds, as will the Tier 2 and Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league.
The 20 EPCR Challenge Cup clubs were divided into three tiers in order to create two pools of 10 – Pool A and Pool B. Clubs from the same league cannot play against one another during the pool stage.
The Tier 1 and the Tier 3 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not in the same league, will play one another home and away over four pool stage rounds.
The Tier 2 clubs which were drawn in the same pool, but which are not from the same league, will play one another home and away during the pool stage. In order to adhere to the key principle of no same-league matches, Tier 2 clubs from the TOP 14 will only play against opposition from the URC, and similarly, Tier 2 clubs from the Premiership will also only play against opposition from the URC.
The exact dates of the pool stage fixtures in both tournaments, as well as venues, kick-off times and TV coverage, will be announced as soon as practicable following consultation with clubs and broadcasters.
The 2022/23 EPCR season will be played over eight weekends with four rounds of matches in the pool stage starting in December, followed by a knockout stage consisting of a Round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals, culminating in the Dublin finals at the Aviva Stadium,
2022/23 HEINEKEN CHAMPIONS CUP
POOL A (opponents in brackets)
Castres Olympique (Exeter Chiefs, Edinburgh)
Saracens (Lyon, Edinburgh)
Bulls (Exeter Chiefs, Lyon)
Union Bordeaux-Bègles (Gloucester, Sharks)
Harlequins (Racing 92, Sharks)
Leinster Rugby (Racing 92, Gloucester)
Racing 92 (Harlequins, Leinster)
Gloucester Rugby (Bordeaux-Bègles, Leinster)
Sharks (Bordeaux-Bègles, Harlequins)
Lyon (Saracens, Bulls)
Exeter Chiefs (Castres Olympique, Bulls)
Edinburgh Rugby (Castres Olympique, Saracens)
POOL B (opponents in brackets)
Montpellier Hérault Rugby (London Irish, Ospreys)
Leicester Tigers (ASM Clermont Auvergne, Ospreys)
Stormers (ASM Clermont Auvergne, London Irish)
Stade Toulousain (Sale Sharks,Munster)
Northampton Saints (La Rochelle, Munster)
Ulster Rugby (La Rochelle, Sale Sharks)
La Rochelle (Northampton Saints, Ulster)
Sale Sharks (Toulouse, Ulster)
Munster Rugby (Toulouse, Northampton Saints)
ASM Clermont Auvergne (Leicester Tigers, Stormers)
London Irish (Montpellier, Stormers)
Ospreys (Montpellier, Leicester Tigers)
2022/23 EPCR CHALLENGE CUP
POOL A (opponents in brackets)
Glasgow Warriors (Perpignan, Bath)
RC Toulon (Zebre, Bath)
Bristol Bears (Zebre, Perpignan)
Connacht Rugby (Brive, Newcastle Falcons)
Cardiff Rugby (Brive, Newcastle Falcons)
Brive (Connacht, Cardiff)
Newcastle Falcons (Connacht, Cardiff)
Zebre Parma (Bristol Bears,Toulon)
Perpignan (Glasgow Warriors, Bristol Bears)
Bath Rugby (Glasgow Warriors, Toulon)
POOL B (opponents in brackets)
Scarlets (Bayonne, Cheetahs)
Pau (Dragons, Cheetahs)
Wasps (Bayonne, Dragons)
Lions (Stade Français Paris, Worcester Warriors)
Benetton Rugby (Stade Français Paris, Worcester Warriors)
Stade Français Paris (Lions, Benetton Rugby)
Worcester Warriors (Lions, Benetton Rugby)
Dragons (Pau, Wasps)
Bayonne (Scarlets, Wasps)
Cheetahs (Scarlets, Pau)
2022/23 Key Dates
Round 1 – 9/10/11 December 2022
Round 2 – 16/17/18 December 2022
Round 3 – 13/14/15 January 2023
Round 4 – 20/21/22 January 2023
Round of 16 – 31 March/ 1/2 April 2023
Quarter-Finals – 7/8/9 April 2023
Semi-Finals – 28/29/30 April 2023
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday 19 May 2023; Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Heineken Champions Cup Final – Saturday 20 May 2023; Aviva Stadium, Dublin