Joe Schmidt, the head coach of defending Heineken Cup champions Leinster, has spoken of the major challenge ahead as his players go in search of a record breaking third European title in-a-row.
“One of the great things about the Heineken Cup is that you talk about teams with superb individual players and that gets supporters excited,” said Joe Schmidt. “We’re just as excited about how big the challenge is going to be this season.”
Schmidt was speaking at the Irish tournament launch of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup season which was staged at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.
Schmidt attended today’s event along with the head coaches of the three other Irish Heineken Cup sides – Eric Elwood (Connacht), Rob Penney (Munster) and Mark Anscombe (Ulster).
Also present was Leinster’s Leo Cullen, the only captain in the history of the world’s most competitive club rugby tournament to have lifted the trophy three times.
The other captains on hand were new Munster skipper Doug Howlett, one of only three players to have won both Heineken Cup and Super Rugby titles, Johann Muller, who led Ulster to last season’s final, and Gavin Duffy of Connacht who has represented Ireland with distinction.
The Irish launch follows on from similar events which have been staged in Paris and London. The final launch before the European kick-off will take place at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome next Monday.
Schmidt added: “In Pool 5, we obviously have Clermont (Auvergne) once again, but I’ve also been really impressed by the Exeter Chiefs – they’re going to be very tough.
“The Scarlets have a superb loose trio in Rob McCusker, Aaron Shingler and Josh Turnbull, and most of their backs are Wales Test players.
“Exeter and the Scarlets are tough enough without even talking about the international quality of Clermont. I mean you have (Aurelien) Rougerie and (Wesley) Fofana, and if you take them away, you have Benson Stanley, Regan King or Gavin Williams to come in.
“That’s the sort of depth they have. So, yes, you could say we’re excited about the challenge ahead.”
The 2013 finals will both be held in Dublin with the Amlin Challenge Cup decider scheduled for Friday, May 17 at the RDS (kick-off 8pm), followed by Europe’s showpiece event, the Heineken Cup final, at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday, May 18 (kick-ff 5pm).