Dai Young admits that Wasps have landed “a very difficult draw” in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Wasps and their fellow former European title holders Bath have been bracketed in arguably the tournament’s toughest group.
Apart from the Premiership rivals meeting each other, they must also get to grips with reigning champions Leinster and French giants Toulouse, who boast eight European crowns between them.
“It’s a very difficult draw, but that is what you expect when you are playing against the best 19 other teams in Europe,” Young said.
“It’s exciting to be drawn with the defending champions and Toulouse, who have also won the competition several times. They will be great match-ups.
“We’ve also had some really good games with Bath in recent seasons, including a double-header in Europe three seasons back.
“They will all be tough games. We will have to be at our best to get through, but hopefully we will have a bit of luck this year and get to play these games when we are not carrying lots of injuries.”
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) June 20, 2018
The draw, which took place at Lausanne’s Olympic Museum in Switzerland, was much kinder to Premiership champions Saracens.
Saracens, who regained the Premiership title last month by beating Exeter at Twickenhan, have been drawn with Glasgow, Lyon and European Challenge Cup holders Cardiff Blues.
Newcastle – back in European rugby’s top-flight competition after a 14-year absence – face Montpellier, Toulon and Edinburgh.
Newcastle’s St James’ Park will play host to the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals next May, but the Falcons will have their work cut out to progress from a group that includes such a heavyweight French presence.
A west country derby lies ahead in Pool 2, with Premiership sides Exeter and Gloucester drawn together, and that quartet being completed by former European Cup winners Munster and reigning French champions Castres.
And Leicester, eliminated at the pool stage in their last Champions Cup campaign, must overcome 2018 runners-up Racing 92, in-form Scarlets and 1999 champions Ulster.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac said: “A semi-final in last season’s competition is something that we are all immensely proud of, but equally just as disappointed that we didn’t play to the best of our abilities on that afternoon in Dublin (against Leinster).
Who remembers this? We’ve shared some great memories with @leinsterrugby@StadeToulousain and @bathrugby. Here’s how Dai views the 2018/19 @ChampionsCup pool…https://t.co/7LfqSElatk pic.twitter.com/TmF9SYqjA5
— Wasps Rugby (@WaspsRugby) June 20, 2018
“Getting a good start in these competitions is vital, and that’s something we failed to do last season.
“We will be looking to improve our performances in the opening rounds, look to build on last season’s success and ensure that we remain competitive in both domestic and European competitions.”
The draw for the Challenge Cup pools was also made, giving Northampton a reunion with familiar Champions Cup rivals Clermont Auvergne – Dragons and Romanian minnows Timisoara Saracens are also in their group – while Sale Sharks face Bordeaux-Begles and Perpignan, plus Irish challengers Connacht.
2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup draw
Pool 1 – Leinster, Wasps, Toulouse, Bath
Pool 2 – Castres, Exeter, Munster, Gloucester
Pool 3 – Saracens, Glasgow, Lyon, Cardiff Blues
Pool 4 – Scarlets, Racing 92, Leicester, Ulster
Pool 5 – Montpellier, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Toulon
2018/19 European Challenge Cup draw
Pool 1 – Northampton, Clermont Auvergne, Dragons, Timisoara Saracens
Pool 2 – Pau, Ospreys, Worcester, Stade Francais
Pool 3 – Sale Sharks, Connacht, Bordeaux-Begles, Perpignan
Pool 4 – La Rochelle, Zebre, Bristol, Enisei-STM
Pool 5 – Benetton, Harlequins, Agen, Grenoble
Vunipola has returned home after re-fracturing the arm that was broken in January and faces another extended spell on the sidelines, the latest setback in an injury-blighted 18 months.
England have already surrendered the series 2-0 ahead of the final Test staged in Cape Town on Saturday – and Springboks number eight Duane Vermeulen insists they are not the same side without their wrecking ball number eight.
“I saw Billy go down and thought it was his shoulder at first,” said Vermeulen, who was named man of the match in South Africa’s 23-12 victory in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
“He’s definitely England’s go-forward guy and without him, from what I saw in the Six Nations they struggled. They need that guy.
“Hopefully Nathan Hughes can step up and make it his own. Billy is a big loss.”
South Africa boss Rassie Erasmus has indicated he will experiment for the final encounter but Vermeulen insists that whoever is picked the aim is to inflict a sixth successive defeat on England.
“We don’t know what team Rassie will pick, but if we can win 3-0 then we want to do that. We would like to go for the three-match clincher,” he said.
“England aren’t far off. Maybe with one or two tweaks they will bounce back. They are still one of the best teams in the world. You have to respect them.
“They are going through a tough patch but all teams go through it. I know they will bounce back.”
France, playing in their maiden final, fed off the cacophony of noise created by the 17,700 strong crowd to avenge their loss to England in the U20 Six Nations in March and cap off a remarkable year that has seen them win that title and the World Championship crown.
It was a second final loss in a row for England after they suffered defeat at the hands of New Zealand 12 months ago in Georgia, but both sides played their part in an enthralling conclusion to the 2018 edition of the premier age-grade competition.
For a full match report click HERE
There was further cause for celebration for France after their 17-year-old number eight Jordan Joseph was named the Breakthrough Player of the Tournament in association with TUDOR.
All six matches on the final day took place in Béziers with South Africa battling back to beat New Zealand 40-30 to claim the bronze medal, with Australia finishing fifth after a 41-15 victory over Argentina.
Wales finished seventh for the second year in a row after seeing off Italy 34-17, while Georgia recorded their second Six Nations scalp and highest-ever finish of ninth after beating Scotland 39-31.
The day’s opening match brought joy for Ireland and dismay for Japan, who will play in the World Rugby U20 Trophy in 2019 after losing a thrilling 11th place play-off 39-33.