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The long countdown of a British summer

Like the first washed-out Test match and the simultaneous first drought warning from the Met Office, the European Cup draws are an essential part of the great British summer, but they don't make it seem any shorter.

The draw is so early in the off-season that it cannot serve as a preview to the new campaign, but it does at least give a focus to the emptiness of the month that follows the old season’s end.

The original attractions of European competition included opportunities to visit new places, encounter new rivals and make new friends, so The Tig was looking forward to fulfilling those goals this week as Tigers made a first-ever appearance in the draw for the Challenge Cup.

That meant avoiding Toulon and the Scarlets in the pool stages because we’ve been numerous times, missing Stade Francais because we have ‘done’ Paris and dodging Castres because we’ve just been there too.

The format denied a clash with other English clubs and the seedings meant there could be no reunion with Richard Cockerill at Edinburgh, but there was a good chance of lining up a potential new destination with Zebre, Agen and Bayonne in the draw alongside wildcards Enisei from the far side of Russia.

As it turned out, we've been handed something old, something renewed and something Blues.

Calvisano are old friends, of course. There was a time when Tigers seemed compelled to play in Italy every season and, although the rugby scene there has changed, the warmth of the welcome will surely remain the same.

Tigers and Pau have met before, too, but not since 2001 and many supporters will see the Pyrenees as an attractive new destination for 2019/20.

A fiercely proud club, Pau also played a pivotal part in Tigers’ path to European glory as older players often identified victory there as an essential part in building the belief and momentum required for Johnno to go on and lift the trophy in 2001 and ’02.

Cardiff is an altogether more regular destination for the Tigers in various cup competitions and, as top seeds in the pool, the Blues have a bit of history in the Challenge Cup too. 

So the draw is done, though the downside is that, while the Brexit debate rumbles on, Tigers fans will have to wait almost five months to get INTO Europe.