Two-time Heineken Cup winner Neil Back is delighted to be leading Leeds Carnegie into Europe next season following the draw for the European Challenge Cup Pools on Monday afternoon
The draw in Dublin has pitted Back's newly promoted Guinness Premiership side with last year's runners up in this competition, Bourgoin, as well as Italian outfit Overmach Rugby Parma and Bucuresti Oaks from Romania.
With big guns Toulon and Saracens drawn against each other in another pool and only pool winners going through to the Quarter Final, the competition could open up for Leeds with a good run in the pool stages.
Commenting on the draw Back said, "European rugby has always held a special place for me but this will be the first time that Andy Key and I have coached a team in Europe. The Challenge Cup is the second tier of European competition below the Heineken Cup but we are thrilled with the draw especially as it gives us a chance to take on someone who was a great servant for Leeds, Alberto Di Bernardo, at his new club in Bourgoin.
"We knew we would always have a big team in our pool as the second seeds but it does not come much tougher than taking on the runners up from the previous season. However, we will also have to have the right mentality to take on the other two teams in our pool as well
"Every team is improving each season with more exposure to the better French and English teams. Our main objective next season is obviously to consolidate our position in the Guinness Premiership but we also want to represent Leeds and Yorkshire in Europe. It is great for a team to challenge themselves in a different environment and you learn a lot about individuals when you are away from home in Europe and I am looking forward to taking this group of players on the road next season," added Back.
Leeds have never faced Bourgoin, the 1997 winners and 2009 finalists, or Bucuresti before but the clash with Parma will bring back memories of the club's first ever European adventure when they lost in Italy 41-10 before defeating Parma 58-16 at Headingley Carnegie thanks to a hat trick from former Scottish international Jamie Mayer.
However, for Back the game against Bucuresti Oaks will bring back memories from his playing days. "My first appearance for England U21 was away at Romania and I scored a hat trick, unfortunately that was surpassed by Chris Oti who scored four in the senior Test after our game. It was just after the Berlin Wall had come down and Eastern Europe was opening up. I remember the stifling heat but most of all I remember swapping kit after the game and their socks had no soles in them, just tied round at the boot.
"I was also fortunate to captain England against Romania at Twickenham in 2001 when we won 134-0. Since then Romanian players have started playing across Europe and their Senior side has improved because of it. On paper we will be favourites but we must go there with the right mentality, they are big, powerful athletes and anything but our best will leave us in a difficult position," added Back.
The European Challenge Cup has been given a make over this year with three teams from the Heineken Cup pool stages coming into the competition at the Quarter Final stage with the possibility of some of the biggest names in European rugby waiting for Leeds Carnegie if they can get through the pool stages.
EUROPEAN CHALLENGE CUP 2009/10 POOLS
POOL 1: Bourgoin, Leeds Carnegie, Overmach Rugby Parma, Bucuresti Oaks
POOL 2: Worcester Warriors, Connacht Rugby, Montpellier, Olympus Rugby XV Madrid
POOL 3: Saracens, Castres Olympique, Toulon, Rugby Rovigo
POOL 4: London Wasps, Rugby Calvisano, Bayonne, Racing-Metro 92
POOL 5: Newcastle Falcons, Montauban, Petrarca Rugby, Albi
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.