Harlequins given kind draw in Cup

English champions Harlequins have been drawn with Biarritz, Connacht and Zebre in a kind draw for the group stages of next season's Heineken Cup.

Eurosport

Biarritz will provide the stiffest opposition in Pool Three, which is also made up of Ireland's weakest province Connacht and Italian side Zebre, who have replaced Aironi Rugby in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Leicester, Harlequins' victims in last month's Aviva Premiership final at Twickenham, have been matched alongside French heavyweights Toulouse in Pool Two.

Heineken Cup debutants Exeter have been given a tough introduction to the tournament after being drawn in a group containing reigning champions Leinster, Clermont Auvergne and Scarlets.

While the participation of English and French clubs in the tournament for the next two seasons are guaranteed, their ongoing involvement has been placed in doubt.

Premier Rugby yesterday confirmed their intention to withdraw from the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups after giving notice, effective from June 1, under the terms of the European Rugby Cup Accord.

The notice period expires at the end of the 2013/2014 tournament at which time the Accord will terminate.

The English clubs - and their French counterparts - are concerned by the format of the competitions and the qualification process.

"We hope that there will now be an urgent dialogue about the future of European cup rugby, including qualification, competition formats and ambition to expand into new markets," Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said.

Saracens face a challenge to qualify for the knockout stages after being picked alongside last season's semi-finalists Edinburgh and two-time winners Munster in Pool One.

Northampton must contend with Ulster, who were crushed 42-14 in last season's final, in Pool Four.

A tricky Pool Six sees Sale meet Cardiff, Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon and Montpellier.

Heineken Cup pool stage:

Pool 1: Munster, Edinburgh, Saracens, Racing Metro.

Pool 2: Toulouse, Leicester, Ospreys, Benetton Treviso.

Pool 3: Biarritz, Harlequins, Connacht, Zebre.

Pool 4: Northampton, Ulster, Glasgow, Castres.

Pool 5: Leinster, Clermont Auvergne, Scarlets, Exeter.

Pool 6: Cardiff, Toulon, Sale, Montpellier.

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