LONDON Irish have been handed a tough task in the group stages of next season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup.

The Exiles, who play their home games at the Madejski Stadium, were drawn in Pool One, alongside Cardiff Blues, French side Grenoble and a still-to-be-determined qualifier when the groups were decided at lunchtime.

The games will take place on selected weekends throughout October, December and January, with the knockout stages being played in April and the final in early May.

London Irish director of rugby, Brian Smith, said: “It is a challenging pool and that will mean that there is no drop in intensity from Premiership to European matches.

“We are taking the tournament very seriously and are excited about the challenges ahead.”

The European Rugby Challenge Cup replaces the Amlin Challenge Cup as the second tier of European competition.

Irish have announced that they will play three pre-season friendly matches. They will take on Montpellier in Grenoble on August 9, before hosting Bristol at the club’s new centre of excellence on August 22, with their pre-season campaign coming to a close with a game against Munster in Waterford, Ireland on August 29.