RaboDirect PRO12 side Glasgow will provide a familiar but difficult challenge after an excellent domestic campaign, while they have also recruited strongly in the off season. Castres, who finished 4th in the French Top14 last season, will have a familiar face in their ranks in the shape of South African back row Pedrie Wannenburg, who left Ulster last month.
Director of Rugby David Humphreys admits that the draw for the Pool stages of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup could have been worse for his side.
Ulster have been drawn in Pool 4 along with Northampton Saints, Glasgow Warriors and Castres Olympique and Humphreys has stated:
“On the whole we are happy with the draw; it could have been better and it could have been worse. There are two very difficult pools and there are a couple of pools which are probably a little bit easier. All four teams will probably look at the pool and think they have a realistic chance of progressing.”
The former Ireland flyhalf is well aware of the quality not only in Pool 4, but throughout the competition:
“We played the Saints in the 2011 quarter-finals and witnessed firsthand how powerful a team they are. We know Glasgow really well from our league meetings and there is no doubt they are a team who are evolving and have shown dramatic improvement. Likewise Castres, who have just come off the back of a very good Top 14 campaign and have proved how difficult they are to beat.
“The top teams have shown that to win competitions like the Heineken Cup and the RaboDirect PRO12, you have to build sustained success over a period of time. You see teams making the knockout stages one season but then they can’t get out of their group the following year. The challenge for us is to be consistently making the last eight. If we want to win the Heineken Cup, we’ve got to be qualifying from our group every year and get more experience playing in big matches.”
Mark Anscombe will take over as Ulster Head Coach for the 2012/13 campaign and Humphreys plans to sit down with the New Zealander to plan for the season ahead.
“Once Mark comes in we will sit down and set out our targets for next year. But I would be very happy to say that after qualifying for the quarter finals for the past two years, one of our goals will be to get out of our pool again. If we want continue to take steps forward, then that must be a minimum requirement.
“Last season our form in the PRO12 was not as good as we hoped, so that is something we will have to address as well.”
Humphreys believes the squad being assembled for next season, which includes the returning Tommy Bowe and Roger Wilson, will be stronger than the one that reached the final at Twickenham last month.
“I think next year our squad will be stronger; over the past two seasons our young players have gained experience of competing at the top end of European competition. We also have more players playing International rugby and that will stand us in good stead too.
“Losing the final last month has made everyone at the club more determined to succeed, both in Europe and in the PRO12. I think we are in much better shape going into next season than we were this time last year.”
2012/13 Heineken Cup Pool Draw
- Munster Rugby
- Edinburgh Rugby
- Racing Metro 92
- Leicester Tigers
- Benetton Treviso
- Connacht Rugby
- Northampton Saints
- Ulster Rugby
- Glasgow Warriors
- Castres Olympique
- Leinster Rugby
- ASM Clermont Auvergne
- Exeter Chiefs
- Cardiff Blues
- RC Toulon
- Sale Sharks
Dublin 2013 - Heineken Cup Final May 18th K.O. 17.00hrs
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