SARRIES HANDED TOUGH DRAW
SARACENS were yesterday handed a dubious reward for their sensational season with a place in a classic Heineken Cup ‘pool of death’. The Watford-based club — whose revival under Brendan Venter led them all the way to this year’s Guinness Premiership final — face a daunting task in trying to qualify for the quarter-finals of Europe’s blue riband event. At yesterday’s draw in Cardiff, they were pitched against 2009 winners Leinster, French champions Clermont Auvergne and the upwardly mobile Parisians, Racing Metro. Yet, Sarries are not the only English side facing an onerous ordeal if they are to reach the last eight. London Irish have also been thrown in at the deep end. Toby Booth’s men are up against two of the Celtic heavyweights — Munster and the Ospreys — and, as if that was not enough, they have Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon to contend with. The wealthy Cote d’Azur club were beaten finalists in the recent Amlin Challenge Cup final but their expensively assembled, cosmopolitan squad will be even more powerful next season. Philippe Saint-Andre has bolstered his ranks with mighty All Black tighthead Carl Hayman, former Wallaby flanker George Smith and England wing Paul Sackey. Elsewhere, Wasps will go head-to-head with reigning champions Toulouse, and Bath are in Pool Four with this season’s beaten finalists Biarritz. Cardiff Blues, the Challenge Cup winners, will spearhead the Welsh assault, with Northampton their leading rivals in Pool One, and the Scarlets must face Leicester and Perpignan as a prize of sorts for sneaking into the tournament by the back door.