Ulster have the appetite to go one step further in Europe insists Bryn Cunningham

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Former Ulster star Bryn Cunningham says the Province have the appetite to go one step further in the European Champions Cup after reaching the quarter-finals last season.

Ulster finished runners-up in their group with five wins from six.

They narrowly lost out to then defending champions Leinster in the quarter-finals, going down 21-18 in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.

Having not reached the knockout stages for several seasons, Cuningham said having come so close to usurping Leinster in the last eight gave the squad a huge appetite to want to go one step further next season.

The road to Marsille 2020 was mapped out on Wednesday when the draw for the group stages was made in Switzerland.

There are no strangers for Ulster to face after they were drawn in Pool Three along with top seeded French side, Clermont Auvergne and two English Premiership sides, Harlequins and Bath.

Clermont won last season’s European Challenge Cup as well as reaching the French final while Quins and Bath were fifth and sixth in the Premiership.

Ulster last faced Clermont in the pool stages of the 2016-17 competition when they defeated the French outfit 39-32 at Kingspan Stadium before losing 38-19 in back-to-back contests just before Christmas.

The home success over eventual pool winners Clermont was one of only two Ulster’s wins in that season’s competition as they also finished behind Bordeaux and Exeter in the group.

On yesterday’s draw Cunningham, operations director at Ulster Rugby, said: “Every team in this competition is incredibly strong.

“I think the main thing for us was and most other teams in this competition was can you avoid Saracens.

“They are pretty phenomenal side, and the last number of seasons wining the double.

“We are happy (with the draw). Clermont are obviously a top side we have been there a could of times before, unbelievable atmosphere one of the best atmospheres you can get in European Rugby so it probably one for the fans as much as for the players and staff.

“We have two English sides in there as well, we have had that before on a couple of occasions and they are going to be tough battles.

“Bath have a proud history, they have won the European Cup many many years ago like ourselves.

“They will want to take that a step further now because they have not been in the latter stages now for a number of years and they want to be right there at the sharp end of competitions moving forwards, like ourselves.

“They are going to be an exciting prospect coming to Kingspan.

Cunningham added: “Overall, we are relatively happy and we just have to continue to grow as a team.

“If we are playing at the top of our ability we can get out of that group.

“In the season just gone we had a strong campaign, winning give from six in Europe in the group stages is a great achievement and obviously coming so close to usurping Leinster in the quarter finals, certainly gives us an appetite in such an amazing competition to go one step further this season coming.

“But we know that is no easy task and you cannot rest on your laurels.

“Every team is growing gall the time and you have to be at your best in all six games if you want to get out of the group into the knockout stages.”

The group stages will be played in November, December and January 2020.