Report Card: Grading the Champions Cup draw for the provinces 5 months ago

Report Card: Grading the Champions Cup draw for the provinces

The Champions Cup Pool stage draw was made on Wednesday with last season's finalists Leinster drawing Northampton, Benetton Treviso and Lyon in Pool 1.

Leinster will be very contented with their grouping with the four-time champions dropping just one game in last season's pool stages while Munster face a considerably tougher test after drawing Saracens and Racing in their pool.

Here we grade each province's pool on an A-F scale with A being a very favourable draw and F being a very unfavourable draw.

Leinster

Pool 1: Leinster, Lyon, Northampton, Benetton 

After topping their pool in the last three consecutive seasons, it would be quite hard for any pool stage draw to seriously worry Leinster and next season's grouping should be no different.

Leinster annihilated Northampton the last time they were drawn in a Pool stage together in 2016, outscoring the Franklin's Gardens club 97-23 over two games, while they have regularly beat up on Treviso in the PRO12/14, despite their clear improvement last season and draw with an understrength blues side last season.

Lyon cannot be overlooked given their 17 wins from 26 games in last season's Top 14 but Leinster have won five out of their last six games against French opposition and will fancy their chances both in Dublin and Lyon next season.

Grade - A

Ulster

Pool 3: Clermont, Ulster, Harlequins, Bath 

Ulster broke a five year hiatus from the knockout stages last season after progressing from a pool that included Racing, Leicester and the Scarlets.

Clermont will be clear favourites here given their Challenge Cup success as well as their run to the Top 14 final this season but Ulster should feel confident against Quins and Bath who have not threatened the Champions Cup knockout stages since at least 2015 when Bath were dumped by Leinster from the quarter-final stages.

With a relatively young core of Jordi Murphy, John Cooney, Marcell Coetzee, Iain Henderson and Jacob Stockdale forming the spine of this team, they should be better off next season for what was a very solid campaign this term, although, they are capable of laying eggs like they did against Glasgow in the PRO14 semi-final.

They can be very dicey when you take them out of Belfast but they should still have enough to back themselves to progress from this pool.

Grade - B 

Munster 

Pool 4: Munster, Saracens, Racing, Ospreys

Munster used to have a love affair with this competition. Champions in 2006 and 2008. Magical nights at Thomond Park where the Fields of Athenry would ring out around the ground as the Reds piled on another try to send the opposition home with their tail between their legs.

But this decade it's been a graveyard for the province. They have consistently been dumped at the penultimate stages with five semi-final defeats and no finals appearances in the last seven seasons.

Always the bridesmaid and never the bride springs to mind with Munster and the Champions Cup and the province certainly did not catch any bouquets on Wednesday after drawing Saracens and Racing.

Saracens pumped them back in April, just as they did in 2017, and it's hard to see anything changing next season with Sarries so far ahead of the chasing pack.

Racing ended Munster's season in 2018 with a dominant victory in Bordeaux and they look to have retained their majority of their squad for next season, which lost to Top 14 champions Toulouse by just a single point in the quarter-final stages last season.

Munster have the added advantage of playing in Thomond, a fortress for them in Europe, but bookmakers already have them listed as the seventh favourite for next year's tournament with Racing installed as sixth favourite. Tough draw.

Grade - F 

Connacht

Pool 5: Connacht, Toulouse, Gloucester, Montpellier

Toulouse are the big draw here with the four-time European champions adding another Top 14 title to their trophy cabinet last season while Gloucester and Montpellier are also quite formidable.

Gloucester made a Premiership semi-final this season, where they were ultimately decimated by Saracens, no shame there, while Montpellier will be adding Guilhem Guirado, Jamie Mackintosh, Handre Pollard, Kahn Fotuali'i and Wallaby Caleb Timu to their squad next season.

Connacht made remarkable strides from where they were under Kieran Keane to where they are now under Andy Friend, but it will be some challenge for them to get out of this pool.

Grade - D