Director of rugby Jim Mallinder says that Saints have been handed a tough European Rugby Champions Cup draw, albeit in a group that will whet the appetite ahead of the 2016/17 season.
Saints were drawn alongside Leinster, Montpellier and Castres by Ieuan Evans (Sky Sports) and Dmitri Yachvili (beIN Sport) in Neuchatel this lunchtime (Wednesday, June 29th) and will look forward to locking horns once again with teams who have been regular opponents in Europe’s top club competition in recent years.
The clashes between the Saints and Leinster in 2011 and 2013 have gone down in European folklore, with the Cardiff final in 2011 being followed by memorable away wins for the respective teams two-and-a-half years later.
Meanwhile the Saints and Castres will resume a Champions Cup rivalry which saw them meet in four successive campaigns between 2010/11 and 2013/14. After a year of rebuilding Castres returned to the Top 14’s top six in 2015/16, including doing a league double over eventual champions Racing-92.
The last time the Saints came up against Montpellier was en route to the 2008/09 European Rugby Challenge Cup title. Montpellier have also had a number of years of restructuring but under the guidance of World Cup-winning coach Jake White have re-established themselves at the top end of French rugby, finishing third in the Top 14 table – just one point behind second-placed Toulon – and winning the Challenge Cup in Lyon.
“It is a tough draw for us, but every group is tough in the Champions Cup,” Mallinder commented. “We’ve come up against Leinster and Castres regularly in the past few years and had some memorable games against both clubs.
“I don’t think anyone has forgotten any of the matches against Leinster, which of course include the final in 2011 and our win in the Aviva Stadium in 2013. They have a lot of top players in their squad and reached the semi-finals of the Pro 12 this year.
“We know what to expect from Castres as well. Like every French club they will be big and physical and the Stade Pierre Antoine is a hostile environment.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve played Montpellier, a club that has come a long way since we played them in the Challenge Cup in 2008/09. Jake White is an experienced international coach who has given Montpellier a winning culture that we all saw recently when they beat Harlequins to win the Challenge Cup a few weeks ago.
“Now that the draw has been made we can start to plan for the new season and it gives us all something to look forward to.”
The fixtures themselves will be confirmed later in the summer, but all three group games will be included in the 2016/17 Season Ticket package; for more details head to www.northamptonsaints.co.uk/seasontickets.
2016/17 European Rugby Champions Cup draw
Pool 1 Racing-92. Glasgow Warriors, Leicester, Munster
Pool 2 Connacht, Wasps, Toulouse, Zebre
Pool 3 Saracens, Toulon, Scarlets, Sale
Pool 4 Leinster, Montpellier, NORTHAMPTON SAINTS, Castres
Pool 5 Exeter Chiefs, Clermont Auvergne, Ulster, Bordeaux
Round 1 Oct 14-16, 2016
Round 2 Oct 21-23, 2016
Round 3 Dec 9-11, 2016
Round 4 Dec 16-18, 2016
Round 5 Jan 13-15, 2016
Round 6 Jan 20-22, 2016