The 12 Magners League clubs head into European action over the next two weeks aiming to repeat the success of last season when two teams reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup and Cardiff Blues won the Amlin Challenge Cup.
While Toulouse and Biarritz Olympique made it an all-French, and Top 14, affair in the Heineken Cup final, the Magners League was the next most successful league in Europe, with three of the eight quarter-finalists.
In the Amlin Challenge Cup, Connacht reached the semi-finals before falling to Toulon while Cardiff Blues went on to beat two Amlin Premiership sides before overcoming Toulon in Marseille to win the title.
Now 11 of the Magners League sides are braced for the 16th season of Heineken Cup rugby, with Connacht once again flying the flag in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
MAGNERS LAGUE CLUBS IN EUROPE
HEINEKEN CUP – Round 1
Pool 1: Cardiff Blues v Edinburgh
Pool 2: Leinster v Racing Metro
Pool 3: London Irish v Munster
Toulon v Ospreys
Pool 4: Ulster v Aironi Rugby
Pool 5: Benetton Treviso v Leicester Tigers
Scarlets v Perpignan
Pool 6: Glasgow Warriors v Newport Gwent Dragons
AMLIN CHALLENGE CUP – Round 1
Pool 1: I Cavalieri Estra v Connacht
The first round fixtures in the Heineken Cup have thrown up three all-Magners League matches. In Pool 1, Cardiff Blues will host Edinburgh, in Pool 4 Ulster welcome Aironi Rugby and in Pool 6 Glasgow Warriors entertain Newport Gwent Dragons.
And there is also a major match at the Madejski Stadium when the current Magners League leaders, Munster, travel to face the top team in England, London Irish. Benetton Treviso also face formidable English opposition in two times winners Leicester Tigers.
There are three clashes against Top 14 sides with reigning Magners League champions the Ospreys travelling to meet Jonny Wilkinson’s Toulon, Leinster hosting Racing Metro 92 and the Scarlets entertaining Perpignan.
Ulster and Aironi will get the new European season underway at Ravenhill in what will be their second clash of the season to date. The new Italian franchise gave the Irish team a tough test when they travelled to Italy in Round 2 of the Magners League, with Ulster skipper Rory Best admitting his side were pleased to emerge with a 22-15 win.
“They were a tough side to play against and we were pleased to emerge with our unbeaten record intact. They have got a big and experienced front five and are only going to get better as they play more games together,” said Best.
“This will be their debut match in the Heineken Cup and I’m sure they will travel to Ravenhill looking to put up a great performance. We certainly won’t be taking them lightly.”
Edinburgh will be hoping they can reverse the result of their opening day Magners League match at the Cardiff City Stadium when they travel to the Welsh capital to face Cardiff Blues in Pool 1.
They went down 34-23, but still have three wins in their last four outings in Cardiff to spur them on. On the other side of the coin, though, they have yet to win an away-day opening fixture in 13 seasons of Heineken Cup action.
“We’ll go to Cardiff in a very positive frame of mind after the last couple of Magners League games, and mindful of the fact that in this competition, how you fare in the first couple of matches is crucial,” explained Edinburgh coach Rob Moffat.
“We can take a lot of confidence from the fact we won all our home Pool games last season, but we know the next step is picking up points on the road. We’ve done well in Cardiff in the recent past and I’ve been really struck by the determination of the guys to maintain that record and get our campaign off to a positive start.
“There’s been an edge to training this week, just what you would want in the run-up to such an important game. It’s now about carrying that into the match itself and making sure we come away with the right result.”