10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
Terrestrial stations BBC Network, France Televisions, RTE, S4C and the BBC regional stations in Wales and Northern Ireland will all show the opening action live, British Eurosport returning as the competition's satellite broadcast partner. The television package for the eighth season of European club rugby's elite tournament represents a new high with weekend audiences set to soar to new peaks.
"We are delighted that half the Round 1 Pool matches will be televised live - and we hope to reach an accumulated audience of over five million," said Derek McGrath, Chief Executive of ERC, the tournament organisers. "The enormous television interest in the tournament demonstrates that the Heineken Cup is now firmly established as the major club rugby competition in Europe and the one rugby supporters have taken to their hearts." " And, in addition to our prestigious terrestrial base provided by BBC, France Televisions and RTE, we are delighted to have British Eurosport back in the fold of our broadcast partners."
Lizzy Younghusband, International Sponsorship Manager for Heineken International, said: "We are delighted that what promises to be another absorbing Heineken Cup tournament is receiving such great support from the broadcasters across Europe confirming the Heineken Cup as the premier club tournament in the northern hemisphere."
Pierre-Jean Sebert, Managing Director of British Eurosport added: "British Eurosport has enjoyed an historic relationship with rugby, broadcasting the last two World Cups and international Test matches, so we are delighted to bring our expertise and enthusiasm to the Heineken Cup." "This is great news for our viewers and European rugby alike, exposing the Heineken Cup tournament to over nine million British Eurosport homes."
Pat Younge, Head of Programmes and Planning, BBC Sport, declared: "The Heineken Cup is the biggest competition in the European Club rugby calendar and the BBC is very pleased to be working with broadcasters from across Europe to ensure this great competition reaches the widest possible audience".
BBC Grandstand will kick-off their coverage with Munster's trip to Kingsholm to face Gloucester, newcomers London Irish's visit to former champions Toulouse the main event on France Televisions.
But reigning champions Leicester Tigers will be first on the screens as they meet Neath at The Gnoll on Friday night in front of the BBC Wales cameras with the Donnybrook clash between Leinster Lions and Bristol Shoguns, which starts just five minutes later, televised by RTE.
Llanelli against Glasgow Rugby, Cardiff's match against Biarritz Olympic and Ulster's visit to Northampton Saints are the other matches that will attract massive television audiences tuning in to see the top 24 teams from seven nations chasing the northern hemisphere's most coveted club prize.