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Europe's best size each other up

Wed, 13 Jun 2012 12:37
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With battle lines drawn for the pool stage of the Heineken Cup next season the coaches of Europe's top club sides have started planning already.

With an exciting blend of newcomers and established clubs that have dominated the competition over the years there is plenty to do as the premier clubs in Europe aim to knock champions Leinster off their pedestal.

Here are the thoughts of some of the top coaches ahead of the competition:

Michael Bradley, Edinburgh Head Coach
(Pool One: Munster, Edinburgh, Saracens, Racing Metro 92)

"Reaching the semifinal for the first time was fantastic for the confidence of the players and a wonderful occasion for the club. We know and understand the motivation of teams like Munster, Leinster and Leicester to get back on an annual basis. But everyone has ambitions to go further.

"Munster have a fine pedigree in this competition and their primary focus is always doing well in the Heineken Cup, Saracens are on their way up and are investing heavily in the club, and we had two fantastic games against Racing Metro last year and look forward to renewing that rivalry."

Richard Cockerill, Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby
(Pool Two: Toulouse, Leicester Tigers, Ospreys, Benetton Treviso)

"It is certainly a tough group. Toulouse are the French champions, Ospreys are the Pro12 champions, and Treviso have the majority of the Italian national squad playing there.

"Leicester have had some great battles with them [Toulouse] over the years. They have strength in depth, a lot of international players and the experience of playing in the biggest games too. They have a quality squad. Anyone who can be as consistently good as they are in the French Championship has to be a top-quality side."

Guy Novès, Toulouse Director of Rugby

"This is a particularly demanding pool, and it is going to be very, very difficult to qualify. There are no weak teams in this pool. Historically, Leicester have always been one of the major players in this competition, and they always seem to be able to rise to the occasion, while the Opsreys play exactly the same type of rugby as the Welsh national team, who won the Grand Slam this year."

Steve Tandy, Ospreys Head Coach

"I'm really excited about the challenge of going up against Europe's best teams. There are six European titles in our group, which says all you need to know. Toulouse are a great club and are always tough opponents and Leicester are familiar for us. We have been up against them in Europe a few times so we know just what to expect. Treviso could hold the key, I can see them causing some upsets. All the teams can beat eachother, but that's what makes it such an exciting pool."

Conor O'Shea, Harlequins Director of Rugby
(Pool Three: Biarritz Olympique, Harlequins, Connacht, Zebre)

"We are delighted to have qualified for the Heineken Cup again and know how difficult it is to progress from the pool stage. We were disappointed to miss out narrowly on reaching the knockout stages last season and we want to make it out of our pool next time around.

"We will not be underestimating the challenge we face in Pool 3. Biarritz are the current Amlin Challenge Cup holders and have played in the Heineken Cup final before and, after our experience in Galway this season, nobody knows better than us what formidable opponents Connacht are when it comes to European competition."

Joe Schmidt, Leinster Head Coach
(Pool Five: Leinster, ASM Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets, Exeter Chiefs)

"Unfortunately, we have to believe it! [on being drawn with Clermont again] We will also be up against the Scarlets and Exeter Chiefs, so it is a tough group. Clermont are an exceptional and extremely well-coached side. They have quality across the board.

"They had a couple of injuries ahead for the semi-final in Bordeaux, and then lost Lee Byrne and Julien Malzieu during the game, so perhaps we had a bit of good fortune on that occasion."

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