Edinburgh Challenge Cup hopes high after draw

Edinburgh players look dejected after their defeat during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final match against Gloucester in May.
Edinburgh players look dejected after their defeat during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Final match against Gloucester in May.
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Edinburgh can be satisfied after being handed a relatively kind draw for the pool stages of the European Challenge Cup next season.

Alan Solomons’ side broke new ground last term when they became the first Scottish team to reach a European final in the same competition.

They lost it 19-13 to Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop in May and were then disappointed not to qualify for the Champions Cup after an eighth-placed Pro12 finish but will fancy their chances of again making the knockout phase after being drawn in Pool 5 alongside French duo Grenoble and Agen and Aviva Premiership side London Irish. The draw took place at European Professional Club Rugby headquarters in Neuchatel, Switzerland, after it was announced that Edinburgh will host the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals in 2017. The venue for next season’s finals will be the French city of Lyon, with both taking place at the brand new 59,000-capacity Grand Stade de Lyon which is set for completion early next year.

Alpine club Grenoble finished 11th in last season’s Top 14, while Agen were promoted to the top-flight after winning the ProD2 play-offs.

Scotland’s 1990 Grand Slam try hero Tony Stanger was playing for Grenoble the last time the two sides met in the 1999-2000 Heineken Cup group stage.

The then Edinburgh Reivers beat the French club 23-18 at Netherdale in Galashiels and then narrowly lost the return match.

London Irish have been familiar and fruitful opponents for Edinburgh, with five meetings in the past 13 years. The Scots have won the last four of those matches, including the dramatic Challenge Cup quarter-final victory at the Madejski Stadium back in April.

There is a clutch of Scottish player in the Exiles’ squad, including Scotland and Lions wing/full-back Sean Maitland who has just joined from Glasgow. Scotland flanker Blair Cowan, former Edinburgh prop Geoff Cross and Merchiston Castle-educated scrum-half Scott Steele could all feature for the Reading-based side.

There are parallels for Edinburgh with last season’s successful pool stage when they also faced two French teams, Bordeaux and Lyon, and another Exiles team in the shape of London Welsh.

Edinburgh aspire to return to the elite Champions Cup but last season’s run in the second-tier tournament did much to breathe life into a season which had got off to a sticky start.

Meanwhile, Glasgow have
received a daunting draw in Pool 3 of the Champions Cup alongside Northampton Saints, Racing 92 and Scarlets.

The European competitions kick-off over the weekend of 12-15 November, with the pool stage running through to late next January.

The finals weekend in Lyon are slated for May 13 and 14, 2016.