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Cockerill predicts intriguing Euro contest

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Richard Cockerill anticipates a fascinating tussle in next season's Heineken Cup following the draw at Twickenham yesterday.

Tigers have been drawn in Pool 4 alongside Clermont Auvergne, Ulster and Italian side Aironi.

Clermont Auvergne have met Tigers in two previous European seasons, most recently in 2009/10, while Ulster were opponents in the pool stages in 2003/04. Aironi are a new franchise in Italy based on the Viadana club who met Tigers in 2009/10.

Tigers director of rugby Cockerill: “It is going to be a tough pool again and I think away games for every team will be massive.

“Clermont are a big club and have been recruiting well. They’re in their centenary year next season and want to mark that occasion with something special. They have a very strong squad, they are one of the powerhouses in French rugby and they went close in Europe in 2010.

“Ulster reached the semi-finals in the Magners League and quarter-finals in Europe this year, they’ve been building well over the last couple of seasons and you’d expect them to be very strong again next season.

“Aironi have a lot of the Italian national squad guys in their pack, they’ve brought in some experience and they will have benefited from their first season in the Magners League. They beat Biarritz in Europe last year, which is proof of how much they have improved.”

This year’s tournament opens in November. Dates for the opening rounds will be confirmed by tournament organisers ERC following discussions with their broadcast partners.

Aironi Rugby coach Rowland Phillips insists the Italians will have learnt from their lessons from last season.

“It is an extremely tough pool but whichever three teams you draw in the Heineken Cup, you are up against huge sides and that is the great attraction of the tournament for us,” he says.

“We had our moment against Biarritz last season and our aim is to build on what we have learnt and enhance the reputation of Aironi.

“The Heineken Cup is a pretty unforgiving competition and you just have to look at some of the proven European sides who failed to get out of the Pools last time to see the task we face trying to progress.

“However we are just delighted to be playing against three top teams and measure how we are developing.”