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Leinster head coach Leo Cullen is looking forward to taking on the challenge of a "competitive" Heineken Champions Cup pool next season.

The Blues look to have been handed a favourable draw which was made on the same day that he welcomed his provincial players back for pre-season training at their UCD base.

"To now have the full Heineken Champions Cup draw confirmed, in addition to last week’s confirmed Guinness PRO14 conferences, it definitely sharpens the mind for the considerable task ahead this season," said Cullen.

"We have seen over the last few years just how difficult it is to compete in this competition and as always the first priority will be to get out of our pool and doing that in Pool 1 will not be easy."

The four-time champions will face a familiar foe in Northampton Saints, the team they beat in the 2011 final, the ever-improving Italian club Benetton and the side that finished fourth in France this season, Lyon. 

"Lyon have been very consistent in the French TOP14 the last few seasons and their 3rd place finish last season was a further example of that consistency improving on their 5th place the season before.

"They are a very ambitious team that are well coached by Pierre Mignoni and we need to be at our very best to perform against them in the Matmut Stadium, where of course we played our 2017 Champions Cup Semi-Final against Clermont."

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Cullen is wary of the threat that the English Premiership club can pose, even when on Leinster's home patch.

"We have recent history against Northampton Saints playing them in 2016 but also before that in 2013 with us winning in Franklin’s Gardens and them winning in the Aviva Stadium a week later in the return fixture.

"And then of course in the Final itself in 2011."

Cullen is an admirer of the job that New Zealander Kieran Crowley is doing at the helm of Benetton since he took the reins less than three years ago.

"Finally, Benetton Rugby have been one of the success stories of the PRO14 the last few seasons and in particular qualifying for the Champions Cup on merit for the first time in their history last year.

"The work that Kieran Crowley has done there has meant their performances have continued to improve during his time and they have made some shrewd signings in the off-season with the likes of Ian Keatley going there.

"Overall it’s a very competitive pool but we very much look forward to the challenge that it presents in particular in a World Cup season."

2019/20 Heineken Champions Cup pools 
Pool 1: Leinster Rugby, Lyon, Northampton Saints, Benetton Rugby
Pool 2: Exeter Chiefs, Glasgow Warriors, La Rochelle, Sale Sharks
Pool 3: ASM Clermont Auvergne, Ulster Rugby, Harlequins, Bath Rugby
Pool 4: Saracens, Munster Rugby, Racing 92, Ospreys
Pool 5: Toulouse, Gloucester Rugby, Connacht Rugby, Montpellier

EPCR weekends – 2019/20 season
Round 1: 15/16/17 November 2019
Round 2: 22/23/24 November 2019
Round 3: 6/7/8 December 2019
Round 4: 13/14/15 December 2019
Round 5: 10/11/12 January 2020
Round 6: 17/18/19 January 2020
Quarter-finals: 3/4/5 April 2020
Semi-finals: 1/2/3 May 2020

2020 finals – Stade de Marseille
Challenge Cup final – Friday 22 May
Heineken Champions Cup final – Saturday 23 May


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