The inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup is set to explode into action in mid-October with two compelling weekends of heavyweight clashes between European club rugby's professional elite. Leinster, Munster and Ulster will all face English opponents in the opening round.
Top 14 winners and defending European champions Toulon will kick off their Pool 3 campaign at Stade Mayol against the Scarlets, with reigning Aviva Premiership champions Northampton Saints travelling to Racing Metro 92 in Pool 5 as the 20th season of European competition gets underway.
GUINNESS PRO12 title holders Leinster are at home against Wasps in round 1 of the European Rugby Champions Cup, while Saracens renew their Anglo-French rivalry with Clermont Auvergne whom they famously defeated in last season's European Cup semi-final.
Munster and Ulster will be on their travels for their opening pool fixtures, with Anthony Foley's men visiting Sale Sharks and the Rory Best-led northerners renewing rivalries with Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
All 20 games in rounds 1 and 2 will be broadcast live on either BT Sport or Sky Sports, with BT Sport kicking off their European coverage with the Pool 2 game between Harlequins and Castres Olympique at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday, October 17.
A brand new chapter in the European club story will begin a day earlier when Gloucester take on Brive live on Sky Sports in round 1 of the European Rugby Challenge Cup at Kingsholm Stadium on Thursday, October 16, following the announcement by EPCR of the fixture schedules for 2014/15.
Meanwhile, Pat Lam's Connacht side will have home advantage for their Challenge Cup opener against French side La Rochelle on Saturday, October 18.
In round 2 of the Champions Cup, the Recreation Ground is certain to be sold out when Bath host four-time European champions Toulouse in Pool 4, and there are unlikely to be any spare seats at either Thomond Park (pictured below) or Kingspan Stadium when Munster go head-to-head with Saracens and when Ulster host Toulon.
Following the Gloucester v Brive Challenge Cup kick-off, other games of note in round 1 include the meeting of Cardiff Blues and Grenoble at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park in Pool 1 as well as Exeter Chiefs' visit to Bayonne.
In round 2, London Welsh's return to European competition against Bordeaux-Bègles at the Kassam Stadium on Thursday, October 23 will be live on BT Sport.
Two places in EPCR's second tournament remain to be filled following Challenge Cup qualification play-offs which will take place over two legs in September. The winners of the play-off between Femi-CZ Rugby Rovigo and Georgian representatives, Tbilisi Caucasians, will qualify for Pool 1 where they will join Cardiff Blues, London Irish and Grenoble.
The winners of the play-off between Cammi Rugby Calvisano and Bucharest Wolves will compete in Pool 3 along with Stade Francais, Newport Gwent Dragons and Newcastle Falcons.
The dates, venues and kick-off times for rounds 3 and 4 in both tournaments will be announced in the coming weeks, with further details of the rounds 5 and 6 fixtures confirmed in December after the completion of round 4.
Philip Browne, Chief Executive of the Irish Rugby Football Union, has warned that the IRFU can no longer be the 'lender of last resort' for the professional game as the governing body does not have the capacity to absorb ever increasing player wage inflation.
In an in-depth interview IRFU Performance Director speaks about Ireland's Rugby World Cup review and the key learnings, the structure of the professional game, player contracts and movement and the challenges and opportunities for Irish Rugby.
Looking forward to the new GUINNESS PRO12 season, Connacht captain John Muldoon said: "We've a lot of younger guys who have big years ahead of them and a few big name signings who will hopefully be able to fit into the system and work hard among the ethos of Connacht Rugby."
Irish Rugby TV was at the launch of the GUINNESS PRO12 and we caught up with Jamie Heaslip, Pat Lam, John Muldoon, Matt O'Connor and Rory Sheridan of Diageo as the new sponsor gets ready to kick off an exciting season.
Out-half Dan Parks had a vital role in Connacht's historic Heineken Cup triumph in Toulouse, kicking two penalties, a drop goal and the touchline conversion of Kieran Marmion's try. He spoke to Rob Murphy after the game.
Rob Murphy caught up with Gavin Duffy after Connacht's inspirational defeat of Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, with the Mayo man giving an insight into how they produced such a high quality performance against the French giants.
Young scrum half Kieran Marmion was one of Connacht's star performers in their famous 16-14 Heineken Cup victory away to Toulouse, scoring a crucial second half try and picking up the man-of-the-match award.
Giving his reaction after Connacht's historic 16-14 win away to Toulouse, head coach Pat Lam said: "The belief's been there, we knew that this performance was not far away. To come here in a massive game with the side they put out is an unbelievable effort (from us) and I'm so proud of the guys."
Fergus McFadden, who helped to launch the Ulster Bank League awards in Dublin, spoke afterwards about his recovery from a fractured hand, previewed Leinster's back-to-back games against Northampton Saints and reflected on his involvement in the GUINNESS Series with Ireland.
Out-half Craig Ronaldson, who has made a successful transition from Ulster Bank League rugby with Lansdowne to a professional contract with Connacht, talks about the step up to this level of rugby, the importance of the league in providing game-time and a shop window for players and he also previews the province's back-to-back clashes with Toulouse.
Connacht head coach Pat Lam was proud of the performance his players produced in their 23-17 Heineken Cup defeat to Saracens, but he was left frustrated by some of referee Pascal Gauzere's decisions in a tight second half.
The Irish launch of the 2013/14 Heineken Cup took place in Dublin last week and Irish Rugby TV caught up with Sky Sports commentator Stuart Barnes to chat about his favourite Heineken Cup memories and get his thoughts on this season's tournament.