They had gathered in the Holiday Inn last Friday night ahead of their departure for Spala (faced with a 4.15 am wake-up call) where the general view was that this year's draw would be every bit as tough if not tougher than last year. Ronan O'Gara - his arm in a sling from a recent operation, identified the opening game as perhaps the crucial game of the lot.
"I think that's going to be huge." he said, "In this competition besides winning all your home games, you have to win at least two on the road and going over there is never easy. But to go there first up is going to be a huge task. There's no bad side. They nearly made the quarter finals this year and beat Sale Llanelli and Glasgow in the Pool stages so that should tell us all we need to know about them."
The prospect of back to back games against Gloucester in January is another factor that Alan Quinlan sees as making this year's route ever bit as tough as before. "We've an away game to start with in France and that's bad enough but then we have those games with Gloucester with the first one away in Kingsholm. They'll expect to be going into that game with at least four points and they'll feel they owe us a hiding for what we did to them in Thomond so I don't know but this has to be a tougher draw than last year. It's certainly no easier, this Italian side will be a better outfit than the crowd we played last year."
O'Gara agreed with the Tipperary man, " Treviso will be a much different proposition than Viadana. Last time I looked at their squad they had most of the Italian squad. "
This season sees the introduction of the bonus point system, an idea that Marcus Horan would have serious reservations about. "I'm not sure it's such a good idea really. It probably works ok where all sides are equal. But if you have weak sides in a pool then that pool has a decided advantage over a strong competitive pool. With the new system in Wales it might take time for some of those sides to bed in or if you have a weak Italian side which often happens, it means that the bonus point becomes easier to get if you are in a Pool like that.
In our case we're not so maybe I'm being selfish but take Pool One for example. You have Ulster in with Stade, Leicester and a Welsh side. So Ulster's chances or Leicester's of say getting a best runner up spot wouldn't be as good as say London Wasps or Perpignan in Pool six because they have possibly the weaker of the Italians and a newly formed Welsh side."
Another factor that may work against Munster is the timing of the competition which is due to start a fortnight after the World Cup end. Munster could have anything up to 13 of their squad involved in the competition and they will have to get themselves back and refocused in time for that opener against Bourgoin. .
Coach Alan Gaffney sees that particular scenario as just a part of the professional game. "They are professional athletes and that's the environment they have to operate in. Now people will say it's going to be the same for everyone and it is to an extent. But they'll be coming back from what will have been a very tough and intense period. They'll then have just two weeks to work their back into Munster systems, into a side that will have been playing regularly together while they were away and they'll be facing a really tough French side, a side who won't have had the player drain that we've had. So yes, those opening two games will be absolutely crucial."