HEC Draw: It’s Bath Time

Whiff of Cordite warned in its preview that getting an Italian team was not the golden ticket it’s made out to be for the Irish teams, as it was guaranteed to be accompanied by a big French and English side.  So it has  proved for Ulster, who in spite of drawing Aironi, have a hell of a job to repeat last year’s feats.  Here’s a quick immediate reaction to the groups.
Pool 1: Munster, Northampton, Scarlets, Castres
Not ideal for Munster, who are defending 11 ranking points this year and simply must get out of their group after last year’s debacle, or there will be blood on the streets.  Northampton are a team with genuine pedigree and no little hunger after this year’s tournament, and qulification will most likely come down to two almighty scraps between the big guns.  Both going through is not inconceivable, but they will need to win home and away against Castres and Scarlets to make it happen.
Pool 2: Cardiff, London Irish, Edinburgh, Racing Metro
The group of dearth.  Fourth seeds Racing have been handed a huge opportunity, and if they want it enough they should qualify.  In truth, this group is there for the taking if any of the four can get their act together and pinch a win or two on the road.
Pool 3: Leinster, Ooooooooooooohhh Bath, Glasgow, Montpellier
Leinster could hardly have handpicked a more benign group, though if Montpellier are interested they could be a banana skin; better to face them in Round 5 or 6.  Glasgow offer a meek threat, while Leinster and their fans will have happy memories of the Rec.  Whiff of Cordite fell in love with Bath on a recent visit and cannot wait to return…

Pool 4: Leicester, Clermont, Ulster, Aironi

A bit of a stinker for Ulster, drawing two of the most physically intimidating sides in the competition.  Four wins is not beyond them, and two teams will probably go through, but it is hard to see them getting enough crucial bonus points to edge out one of Leicester and Clermont.
Pool 5: Biarritz, Ospreys, Saracens, Treviso
A great chance for Sarries here to build on their Premiership win and make a statement in Europe.  Ospreys will struggle next year with so many names leaving in the summer, while Biarritz rarely impress in spite of a strong qualification record.
Pool 6: Toulouse, Harlequins, Gloucester, Connacht
Not an ideal draw for Connacht, who will find the step-up from the Amlin a tall order.  They could easily emerge winless and not disgrace themselves, but will target the home games against Gloucester and Quins.  If nothing else, it will be fun to see Toulouse’s great rugby aristocrats roll out at the dog-track, hopefully on a friday night when it’s blowing a gale.
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