LONDON IRISH will face trips to Paris, Edinburgh and Russia in the group stage of the European Challenge Cup.
After earning promotion back up to the Premiership with a two-legged play-off final win over Yorkshire Carnegie, the Exiles also secured a return to European rugby.
And today’s draw has seen Irish drawn alongside Edinburgh Rugby, Stade Francais Paris and debutant Russian side Krasny Yar in Pool 4.
Other English sides involved in the second-tier European event are Premiership rivals Newcastle Falcons, Gloucester, Sale Sharks and Worcester Warriors.
And Irish have been busy strengthening their squad ahead of the new campaign, announcing no fewer than 10 new signings.
Director of rugby Nick Kennedy penned a new long-term contract last week and has recruited eight internationals among the new arrivals.
Speaking directly after securing promotion, Kennedy said he had tied down deals for players who were set to join regardless of what league the club were playing in.
Among those coming in are two-time European Champions Cup winner PETRUS DU PLESSIS.
Also a three-time Premiership champion during his seven-year stint with Saracens, Du Plessis, 35, arrives to add some know-how to the Exiles pack.
“Petrus’ experience will be invaluable for us as we gear up for a return to the Premiership,” said Kennedy.
“Petrus adds to the experience that we currently have, but will also be important for the development of our young front rows coming through the ranks.”
Another man to bolster the pack is Scotland international prop GORDON REID.
The 30-year-old arrives from Glasgow Warriors, whom he represented 109 times, and won the Pro12 in 2015.
The 18-stone front-rower is part of Scotland’s current squad for their summer tour and played a key role in this year’s Six Nations.
“The Premiership is a world class competition and I’m really looking forward to being part of it,” said Reid.
Georgia international LASHA LOMIDZE has signed up for his first year in English rugby.
Back row Lomidze, 24, has top European experience from his time at Montpellier and also featured at the World Cup.
“We have been tracking the progress of Lasha for some time,” said Kennedy.
“We are delighted to have signed him.”
The signing announcements kept on coming with a familiar face to those who watch Six Nations or Premiership rugby in LUKE McLEAN also signing up.
With 89 caps for Italy and also experience in England with Sale Sharks, McLean will battle it out for a spot among the backs after joining from Benetton Rugby Treviso.
“I’m thrilled to have signed for London Irish,” said the 29-year-old.
“It’s a club that has big ambitions and I’m excited to join up with my new team-mates.
“The club has a top class coaching set-up headed by Nick Kennedy, who coached the team to play some attractive rugby last season and hopefully I can add to that.”
Australia international JAKE SCHATZ has joined London Irish from Melbourne Rebels.
Capped twice by his country, Schatz can play at either number 8 or flanker.
Kennedy commented: “Jake has played at the very highest level both domestically and internationally and he is a fantastic signing for us.
“He’s an abrasive ball carrier, who is aggressive over the ruck and will add dynamism to the back row.”
TEOFILO PAULO has also joined the ranks.
The Samoan international, 29, joins a talented set of locks and will challenge player of the season Mike Coman and players’ player of the season Seb De Chaves for a spot in the side.
And the recruitment drive continued by snapping up 36-times capped Australia hooker SAIA FAINGA’A.
The 30-year-old has spent his entire career in his homeland and is relishing the chance of a switch to Europe.
“A move to London Irish presents me with an exciting challenge and one which I want to make the most of,” he said.
“I’ve heard great things about Irish and it’s certainly a forward-thinking club with big plans for the future.
“I’m delighted to be a part of what Nick Kennedy is building.”
Exciting French Top 14 winger NAPOLIONI NALAGA has completed his move to the Exiles from Lyon.
Nalaga scored 105 tries in 165 games during two stints with Clermont Auvergne and reached the Heineken Cup final in 2013.
The Fiji international, 31, came up against Kennedy in that final against Toulon.
“I played against him in that 2013 final and he was superb throughout the game,” said Kennedy.
“He’s improved his game year on year and has the try scoring ability, passion and determination to succeed in the Premiership.”
Completing the list of new arrivals are Super Rugby scrum-half BEN MEEHAN, and Fiji international tighthead MANASA SAULO from Toulon.