EDINBURGH will play home and away matches against English Premiership runners-up Saracens and French Top 14 beaten finalists Castres in the pool stage of next season's Heineken Champions Cup.

It is a daunting challenge, but Mike Blair’s side will draw confidence from having beaten Saracens 21-18 when the two sides met at the Stonex Stadium in North London at the start of last year’s European Challenge Cup campaign.

Castres finished top of the French Top 14 table in the season just finished but lost their play-off final match to Montpellier last weekend. The most recent time they played Edinburgh was in the pool stage of the 2010-11 Heineken Cup when two tight matches ended with the home team coming out on top.

Yesterday’s draw put Edinburgh into Pool A of the competition, which also features the Bulls, Union Bordeaux-Begles, Harlequins, Leinster, Racing 92, Gloucester, Sharks, Lyon and Exeter Chiefs. The challenge is to pick up enough league points against Saracens and Castres to finish top eight (out of 12) in the table, so as to progress to the round of 16.

The 12 teams competing to finish in the top eight of Pool B are Montpellier Hérault Rugby, Leicester Tigers, Stormers, Stade Toulousain, Northampton Saints, Ulster, Stade Rochelais, Sale Sharks, Munster Rugby, ASM Clermont Auvergne, London Irish and Ospreys.

It is a convoluted format which was first introduced during Covid as a means of minimising the risk of teams being majorly handicapped by having games cancelled due to the virus, and which seems to have been stuck with because it allows more sides to make it to the knock-out rounds of the competition. However, it means the pool stage has lost its punchiness and yesterday's draw was a damp squib of an occasion.

“First and foremost, it’s absolutely brilliant to see Champions Cup rugby back in Edinburgh,” said head coach Blair, who guided the team into Europe’s top tier competition during his first season in the capital hot-seat.

“As a club, we’ve had some memorable days in European rugby’s top competition and so to host both Saracens and Castres at DAM Health Stadium will be a massive occasion for the city and our supporters.

“As a group, we always want to test ourselves against the best teams in Europe. That’s why we train every day and that’s why we work tirelessly throughout the season – it will be a fantastic opportunity for our squad to play at home and away against two clubs that had brilliant seasons in 2021-22.

“Although both Saracens and Castres were runners-up in their respective domestic competitions, they both put together terrific seasons and on another day, we could be facing two Champions in this year’s competition.

“Saracens are of course a team we know well having played them down in London in last season’s Challenge Cup. It will be brilliant to welcome them to the Scottish capital for what should be a mouth-watering rematch.

“Champions Cup rugby is always a special occasion and I can’t wait to see our fans pack out DAM Health Stadium for two massive European matches. Our squad will be fired up and ready to represent the city and our fans at European’s top table.”

Meanwhile, Glasgow Warriors will face Perpignan and Bath home and away in the pool stage of the second tier European Challenge Cup.

They have never faced Perpignan in a competitive fixture, with former Glasgow prop Siua Halanukonuka part of a Catalan squad also containing Argentinian international duo Martin Landajo and Jeronimo de la Fuente.

Warriors and Bath are familiar foes, having faced each other on eight previous occasions in European competition, although not since the 2014-15 season, when the Scottish side won 37-10 at Scotstoun in their opening pool game of the Heineken Cup then lost 20-15 at the Rec in their final pool game to miss out on progression to the knock-out stages of the competition.

This draw is set to bring former Glasgow prop D’arcy Rae back to Scotstoun, along with fellow Scotland internationals Cam Redpath and Josh Bayliss. Bath finished last season rooted to the foot of the Premiership table and were fortunate that there was no relegation.

Next season’s European pool games will be played on the weekends of 9th-11th December 2022, 16th-18th December 2022, 13th-15th January 2023 and 20th-22nd January 2023, with exact dates, kick-off times and broadcast details for all fixtures to be confirmed at a later date by tournament organisers EPCR.