IF TRIPS to France and Italy were not exciting enough for the Sixways faithful, Worcester Warriors have secured two extra matches against their local rivals next season.
The European Rugby Challenge Cup was drawn last week and has seen Warriors pitted against holders Gloucester, French outfit La Rochelle and Italian side Zebre in Pool Four.
However, to progress to the knockout stages, Warriors will need to end their hoodoo in the tournament as they have not topped their group since 2009.
To help readers get an understanding of the size of the challenge facing Dean Ryan’s men next season, the Observer’s Warriors reporter Geoff Berkeley has taken a look at each of their opponents.
HAVING won the competition earlier this year with victory over Edinburgh, the Cherry and Whites will be disappointed not to be playing in the Champions Cup.
But their failure to defeat Bordeaux-Begles in the play-off at Sixways means they will instead have the chance to defend their title.
And they will be feel confident of doing so. A pacy back-line and an ever-improving pack, which features former Warriors ace Matt Kvesic and England number eight Ben Morgan, makes them strong favourites to put together a strong run again.
Stadium: Kingsholm Stadium (16,500-capacity)
Director of rugby: David Humphreys
Key players: Billy Twelvetrees, Matt Kvesic
Unlike Gloucester, this is a club which will be unfamiliar to most Worcester fans. Promoted to the French Top 14 in 2014, La Rochelle finished their first season in ninth and are beginning to establish themselves among the elite of French rugby.
Last season saw them come bottom of their Challenge Cup group which included Exeter Chiefs, Bayonne and Connacht.
But La Rochelle, which is situated on the south west coast of France, will be keen to upset the form book and give Warriors a scare.
Stadium: Stade Marcel-Deflandre (15,000-capacity)
Head coach: Patrice Collazo
Key players: Gonzalo Canale, Jason Eaton
Since becoming professional in 2012, the Italian side have become the whipping boys of the Pro 12 – finishing bottom for the past three years.
But, while they have struggled in the league, they are starting to find their feet in Europe after two unsuccessful years in the Heineken Cup as they notably beat Brive home and away to finish third behind Oyonnax and Gloucester last season.
Once again, Parma-based Zebre are expected to fight it out to avoid the wooden spoon. But, with the likes of Mauro Bergamasco and former Italy skipper Marco Bortolami in their side, they certainly do not lack experience and this may be enough to edge what is likely to be a youthful Worcester side.
Stadium: Stadio XXV Aprile (5,000-capacity).
Head coach: Andrea Cavinato
Key players: Mauro Bergamasco, Luciano Orquera
The ties will be played on….
Round 1: November 12/13/14/15
Round 2: November 19/20/21/22
Round 3: December 10/11/12/13
Round 4: December 17/18/19/20
Round 5: January 14/15/16/17
Round 6: January 21/22/23/24
Quarter-finals: April 7/8/9/10
Semi-finals: April 22/23/24
Finals: May 13/14