Munster team and supporters will be well familair with the French side Castres, having played them in the inaugural 1995/96 competition, in 2000/2001 and again the following season 2001/2002 when not only did they play them in the Pool stages but also in the semi-final, a game played in Beziers that Munster won 25-17.
Nor are Munster unfamiliar with NEC Harlequins as heineken Cup opponents. They first meyt in the competition in 1997/98 when the London side were just plain Harlequins but with Keith Wood at the height of his considerable powers. When the sides met at The Stoop, Harlequins won 48-40 but in the return in Thomond Park Munster exacted sweet revenge to win 23-16.
In 2001/02 they were paired again in Pool 4 (including Castres) and this time around Munster won the tie at The Stoop, 24-8, a close game until Jason Holland's try broke Harlequin's spirit and in the return in the second last round of games, Munster were comfortable victors 51-17. The third side in Munster's group, Neath-Swansea Ospreys, could prove the the real dark horse.
Munster played them twice last season in the Celtic League and lost both matches, 33-20 in St Helen's and 18-15 in Musgrave Park on the night that Christian Cullen debuted for Munster. The Ospreys were drawn in a hugely dificult Pool Two last season , a group that included eventual beaten finalists Toulouse, quarter-final qualifiers Edinbugh and the Premiership side Leeds Tykes whom they beat 10-3 in the final Pool game.
Speaking about the draw, Munster coach Alan Gaffney, who returned from a vacation in his native Australia last weekend said:
"Well my initial reaction is that with the composition of this Pool, the side that wants to progress to the knock-outs has to win the group. We face three real quality sides. There has never been anything between ourselves and Castres when we've played. We know all about how good Harlequins are after their run in the Parker Pen.
They have a few irish boys I know from my days in Leinster. Neath-Swansea beat us twice last year, that was their first year together and they can only get stronger. Each year it gets tougher and there is no doubt this will be time around there will be nothing to choose between the sides in this group."
POOL 1: London Wasps, Calvisano, Biarritz Olympique, Leicester Tigers.
POOL 2: Benetton Treviso, Leinster, Bath Rugby, Bourgoin.
POOL 3: Llanelli Scarlets, Glasgow Rugby, Northampton Saints, Toulouse.
POOL 4: Munster, Neath-Swansea Ospreys, Castres Olympique, NEC Harlequins.
POOL 5: Edinburgh Rugby, Perpignan, Newport Gwent Dragons, Newcastle Falcons.
POOL 6: Stade Francais Paris, Ulster, Cardiff Blues, Gloucester.
22/23/24 Oct Pool 1 Leicester Tigers v Calvisano 22/23/24 Oct Pool 1 London Wasps v Biarritz Olympique 22/23/24 Oct Pool 2 Bath Rugby v Bourgoin 22/23/24 Oct Pool 2 Benetton Treviso v Leinster 22/23/24 Oct Pool 3 Glasgow Rugby v Northampton Saints 22/23/24 Oct Pool 3 Llanelli Scarlets v Toulouse 22/23/24 Oct Pool 4 Castres Olympique v Ospreys 22/23/24 Oct Pool 4 Munster v NEC Harlequins 22/23/24 Oct Pool 5 Perpignan v Edinburgh Rugby 22/23/24 Oct Pool 5 Dragons v Newcastle Falcons 22/23/24 Oct Pool 6 Ulster v Cardiff Blues 22/23/24 Oct Pool 6 Stade Français v Gloucester
29/30/31 Oct Pool 1 Calvisano v London Wasps 29/30/31 Oct Pool 1 Biarritz Olympique v Leicester Tigers 29/30/31 Oct Pool 2 Bourgoin v Benetton Treviso 29/30/31 Oct Pool 2 Leinster v Bath Rugby 29/30/31 Oct Pool 3 Northampton Saints v Llanelli Scarlets 29/30/31 Oct Pool 3 Toulouse v Glasgow Rugby 29/30/31 Oct Pool 4 Ospreys v Munster 29/30/31 Oct Pool 4 NEC Harlequins v Castres Olympique 29/30/31 Oct Pool 5 Edinburgh Rugby v Dragons 29/30/31 Oct Pool 5 Newcastle Falcons v Perpignan 29/30/31 Oct Pool 6 Cardiff Blues v Stade Français 29/30/31 Oct Pool 6 Gloucester v Ulster
3/4/5 Dec Pool 1 London Wasps v Leicester Tigers 3/4/5 Dec Pool 1 Biarritz Olympique v Calvisano 3/4/5 Dec Pool 2 Benetton Treviso v Bath Rugby 3/4/5 Dec Pool 2 Leinster v Bourgoin 3/4/5 Dec Pool 3 Northampton Saints v Toulouse 3/4/5 Dec Pool 3 Glasgow Rugby v Llanelli Scarlets 3/4/5 Dec Pool 4 Ospreys v NEC Harlequins 3/4/5 Dec Pool 4 Castres Olympique v Munster 3/4/5 Dec Pool 5 Dragons v Perpignan 3/4/5 Dec Pool 5 Newcastle Falcons v Edinburgh Rugby 3/4/5 Dec Pool 6 Stade Français v Ulster 3/4/5 Dec Pool 6 Gloucester v Cardiff Blues
10/11/12 Dec Pool 1 Leicester Tigers v London Wasps 10/11/12 Dec Pool 1 Calvisano v Biarritz Olympique 10/11/12 Dec Pool 2 Bath Rugby v Benetton Treviso 10/11/12 Dec Pool 2 Bourgoin v Leinster 10/11/12 Dec Pool 3 Toulouse v Northampton Saints 10/11/12 Dec Pool 3 Llanelli Scarlets v Glasgow Rugby 10/11/12 Dec Pool 4 NEC Harlequins v Ospreys 10/11/12 Dec Pool 4 Munster v Castres Olympique 10/11/12 Dec Pool 5 Perpignan v Dragons 10/11/12 Dec Pool 5 Edinburgh Rugby v Newcastle Falcons 10/11/12 Dec Pool 6 Ulster v Stade Français 10/11/12 Dec Pool 6 Cardiff Blues v Gloucester
7/8/9 Jan Pool 1 Leicester Tigers v Biarritz Olympique 7/8/9 Jan Pool 1 London Wasps v Calvisano 7/8/9 Jan Pool 2 Bath Rugby v Leinster 7/8/9 Jan Pool 2 Benetton Treviso v Bourgoin 7/8/9 Jan Pool 3 Glasgow Rugby v Toulouse 7/8/9 Jan Pool 3 Llanelli Scarlets v Northampton Saints 7/8/9 Jan Pool 4 Castres Olympique v NEC Harlequins 7/8/9 Jan Pool 4 Munster v Ospreys 7/8/9 Jan Pool 5 Perpignan v Newcastle Falcons 7/8/9 Jan Pool 5 Dragons v Edinburgh Rugby 7/8/9 Jan Pool 6 Ulster v Gloucester 7/8/9 Jan Pool 6 Stade Français v Cardiff Blues
14/15/16 Jan Pool 1 Biarritz Olympique v London Wasps 14/15/16 Jan Pool 1 Calvisano v Leicester Tigers 14/15/16 Jan Pool 2 Leinster v Benetton Treviso 14/15/16 Jan Pool 2 Bourgoin v Bath Rugby 14/15/16 Jan Pool 3 Toulouse v Llanelli Scarlets 14/15/16 Jan Pool 3 Northampton Saints v Glasgow Rugby 14/15/16 Jan Pool 4 NEC Harlequins v Munster 14/15/16 Jan Pool 4 Ospreys v Castres Olympique 14/15/16 Jan Pool 5 Newcastle Falcons v Dragons 14/15/16 Jan Pool 5 Edinburgh Rugby v Perpignan 14/15/16 Jan Pool 6 Cardiff Blues v Ulster 14/15/16 Jan Pool 6 Gloucester v Stade Français 14/15/16 Jan Pool 6 Cardiff Blues v Ulster