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Rassie v ROG, nothing to fear for Connacht and more talking points after the Champions Cup draw

The draw was more favourable to Irish provinces than last season.

ROG return

THERE IS NO chance of Pool one’s top seeds underestimating their fourth-seeded opponents. At least, the coaching box won’t.

The French champions, with defence coach Ronan O’Gara assisting their efforts, will carry several extra layers of intrigue when they go to Thomond Park this year.

Ronan O'Gara after the game Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The clash will be even more telling as Munster’s attack was so problematic last season. Johan Erasmus will have about six weeks of Pro12 action to coax his side into an offensive rhythm in the Pro12 before European tests come around.

Racing 92 may not be the opening weekend opposition, but with such a familiar and high-profile defence coach trying to thwart the southern province, the pressure for Rassie to impress and stunt the legend in exile’s rapid progress on the coaching ladder will be well and truly on.

Nothing to fear for Connacht

The overwhelming reaction when the first two clubs followed the Pro12 champions in to Pool 2 wasn’t trepidation. It was excitement about the entertainment that surely lies ahead. It’s fitting too, given the fearless manner in which Pat Lam sends his team out to attack.

With Zebre tagged on as fourth seeds, there is no reason for Connacht to suddenly seize up with worry.

Wasps proved themselves a match for almost anybody last season with George Smith and Charles Piutau at the heart of a team that gave us edge-of-the-seat moments until Saracens finally edged them out at the semi-final – but they will be weaker without those two.

Pat Lam after the match Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Toulouse obviously carry an air of dynasty about them, but their glories are very much in the former category. It’s four years since they won the Top 14 or made the final, it’s six years since they were European champions.

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Most importantly, Connacht have a happy history of facing them – capped off with the incredible win in the south of France midway through Lam’s first season in charge.

Leinster’s tough task feels more achievable than last term

When it came time for Munster’s ball to be drawn from the bowl, there were two places they could end up. And no sensible Munster fan was annoyed at meeting the French champions when the alternative option was going in between Saracens and Toulon.

In the case of provinces east and north, the draw feels a bit of a reprieve compared to last season. Leinster remember finished bottom of a pool with in-form Wasps, Bath and Toulon. In Montpellier, Northampton and Castres they have a much more realistic route to the quarter-finals — or, they will if they can avoid two home defeats pre-Christmas.

Formidable, not unbeatable, opposition

Ulster will probably just be glad that Saracens can steer clear of Belfast for at least a few more months. The reigning English and European champions are a sapping opponent to face both mentally and physically. So while Clermont and Exeter are formidable in their own right, they needn’t be feared like the complete machine that Ulster have fallen foul of before.

There might just be an extra layer of rivalry brought by Pool 5′s fourth seeds too. Ian Madigan will be fully bedded-in in the south western France when European ties come around. And will hope to be handed the reins for his first appearance in Kingspan Stadium since Paddy Jackson re-jigged the Ireland out-half pecking order.


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Sean Farrell

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