South Africa’s two sides in the Heineken Champions Cup were handed tough draws for next season’s tournament.
The DHL Stormers were drawn in what could arguably be a pool of death while the Vodacom Bulls will have their hands full in a similarly tough pool in a new format which sees four groups of six teams.
The pools were determined on Wednesday in a live draw, and saw two sides from the three leagues - the Gallagher Premiership, the Vodacom United Rugby Championship and the French Top 14 - in each pool.
The way the pools are drawn means that teams can’t face other sides from the same league in their pool, meaning four games in the league phase either home or away. The top four sides in each pool will qualify for the round of 16, while the last placed side in each pool will drop down to the round of 16 in the EPCR Challenge Cup.
POOLS HAVE BEEN DRAWN ??
Some huge match ups – which game are you most looking forward to? ??
Remember, teams will play 4 Pool Stage games home or away with no repeats and no same-league clashes… pic.twitter.com/fNb25ktniB— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) June 21, 2023
STORMERS HAVE A TOUGH DRAW
The Stormers were drawn in Pool 4, along with the defending Champions Cup champions La Rochelle and will also have massive match-ups against Leicester Tigers, Stade Francais and Sale Sharks.
Both Sale and Leicester have a number of Springboks in their side. The other Champions Cup finalists, Leinster, are also drawn in the same pool but can’t face the Stormers as they come from the same league.
La Rochelle are the tournament heavyweights and their rematch with Leinster will be one of the biggest pool match-ups in the initial phase. The Stormers will have their work cut out against both sides.
The Bulls were drawn in Pool 1 with Premiership champions Saracens, French club Bordeaux, Bristol Bears and Lyon, who were in the same pool as them this season. Connacht are the other URC side in the pool.
TOULOUSE FAVOURITES IN POOL 2
French Top14 champions Toulouse are favourites in Pool 2, alongside Cardiff, Racing 92, Harlequins and Ulster. Johann van Graan’s side, Bath, complete this pool.
In Pool 3 URC champions Munster will head the pool along with EPCR Challenge Cup winners Toulon, while Bayonne, Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors and Northampton Saints make up the rest of the group.
The draw was more favourable for the two South African sides confirmed for the EPCR Challenge Cup. The Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions have both qualified for the Challenge Cup while the possibility exists that the Toyota Cheetahs will play in the tournament for a second consecutive year as one of the two invitational teams.
SHARKS HAVE FAVOURABLE CHALLENGE CUP DRAW
The Sharks have a draw that they will enjoy and are pooled alongside French clubs Pau and Oyonnax, as well as one invitation team and URC sides Dragons and Zebre Parma.
The Lions are in pool two alongside URC sides Benetton and Ospreys, while Newcastle Falcons, Montpellier and Perpignan are the other sides in their pool.
The second invitational side will be in pool 3 in the Challenge Cup alongside URC sides Edinburgh and Scarlets. French sides Castres Olympique and Clermont Auvergne as well as English side Gloucester finish off the pool.
The fixtures - home and away - will be determined in a matter of weeks.
CHAMPIONS CUP DRAW
Pool 1: Saracens, Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Vodacom Bulls, Bristol Bears, Connacht Rugby, Lyon
Pool 2: Stade Toulousain, Cardiff Rugby, Bath Rugby, Racing 92, Harlequins, Ulster Rugby
Pool 3: Munster Rugby, Aviron Bayonnais, Glasgow Warriors, Exeter Chiefs, RC Toulon, Northampton Saints
Pool 4: Stade Rochelais, Stade Francais Paris, Leicester Tigers, DHL Stormers, Leinster Rugby, Sale Sharks
CHALLENGE CUP DRAW
Pool 1: Invitee 1, Section Paloise, Dragons RFC, Zebre Parma, Oyonnax Rugby, Cell C Sharks
Pool 2: Ospreys, USAP, Newcastle Falcons, Emirates Lions, Montpellier Herault Rugby, Benetton Rugby
Pool 3: Edinburgh Rugby, Castres Olympique, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Invitee 2, Gloucester Rugby, Scarlets
Round 1 – 8/9/10 December 2023
Round 2 – 15/16/17 December 2023
Round 3 – 12/13/14 January 2024
Round 4 – 19/20/21 January 2024
Round of 16 – 5/6/7 April 2024
Quarterfinals – 12/13/14 April 2024
Semifinals – 3/4/5 May 2024
EPCR Challenge Cup final – Friday, 24 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Champions Cup final – Saturday, 25 May 2024, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium