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Rugby News

European draw re-ignites old rivalries

Leicester Tigers have been drawn in Pool 5 of the new season’s European Challenge Cup and some familiar faces lie in wait. Here’s our guide to the teams and their history.

Cardiff Blues
Challenge Cup winners in 2010 and again in 2018, when they beat Gloucester 31-30 in the Final in Bilbao, the Blues had a season back in the Champions Cup in 2017/18 but missed out a year later as they finished fifth in their PRO14 conference behind Glasgow, Munster, Connacht and Ospreys.

Tigers’ semi-final rivals in the Champions Cup in 2009, when they were beaten in the tournament’s only penalty shoot-out, they will add Josh Adams (Worcester) and Hallam Amos (Dragons) as major signings for the new season, though former Tigers centre Jack Roberts has returned to Doncaster, Blaine Scully is back in the USA and Gareth Anscombe has traded Cardiff for Swansea with a move to the Ospreys.

Leicester Tigers
Making a first appearance in the tournament after an unbroken run in the Champions Cup, they ended the domestic season in 11th place in the Gallagher Premiership.

Tigers are among four previous European Cup winners in the Challenge Cup draw, alongside Wasps, Brive and Toulon, and have faced all three of their pool rivals in previous European Cup seasons.

Rivals in Tigers’ debut European season back in 1996/97 and again a year later, and in 2000/01 as Dean Richards’ team headed towards the title, many supporters will retain fond memories of trips to the Pyrenees.

Pau were Challenge Cup winners in 2000 and finalists in 2005, when they were beaten by Sale Sharks at the Kassam Stadium in Oxford. They reached the semi-finals in 2017/18 but last season won three and lost three in a pool topped by Worcester Warriors.

Kiwi trio Simon Mannix, Conrad Smith and Carl Hayman formed their coaching team last season, when they finished 11th in the Top14, with former England cap Steffon Armitage in the back row and Jesse Mogg among their other overseas players.

The signing of All Blacks duo Ben Smith and Luke Whitelock from the Highlanders gives notice of their intentions for 2019/20.

Rugby Calvisano
Old friends and rivals as Champions Cup opposition in three out of four seasons in the early part of the millennium, many Tigers fans have made previous trips to Italy.

A former home of Martin Castrogiovanni and Leonardo Ghiraldini, things have changed a lot in their domestic set-up with two Italian clubs now included in the PRO14, but Calvisano have won the domestic Top12 competition on five occasions in the last eight seasons.

They beat fellow Italian side Rovigo in the Continental Shield play-offs in 2018/19 to qualify for the Challenge Cup for a sixth time after missing out a year earlier when they were beaten by Heidelberg of Germany.

Former Italy international wing Massimo Brunello has been head coach since 2015 after beginning his coaching career at Rovigo where he spent all of his playing career.