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Excitement Builds Ahead Of Champions Cup Kick-Off

Excitement Builds Ahead Of Champions Cup Kick-Off

The seven teams who will represent the GUINNESS PRO12 in the new European Rugby Champions Cup gathered in Dublin today for the first of three launches of the new competition.

The battle lines for the splendid new Champions Cup trophy (pictured below) – 13.5 kgs of sterling silver with five handles made of 18 ct gold – were drawn ahead of Wednesday’s gathering of the Aviva Premiership clubs at Twickenham Stadium and the Top 14 teams in Paris next Monday.

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Three of the seven teams in Dublin had been crowned champions of Europe in the past, Leinster (2009, 2011, 2012), Munster (2006, 2008) and Ulster (1999), and they are all getting ready to face an even tougher challenge in the slimmed down tournament this season.

Munster head coach Anthony Foley, who lifted the old Heineken Cup for the province in 2006, said: “There may be less teams and less pools, but it will still be the best teams going at it to see who is going to lift the trophy.

“The dynamics will still be the same with the same permutations going into rounds five and six and the same mentality for every game – go and get something out of it.

“It’s so important that you go into the first round of games in October and come away with a positive mentality to take into the November international break. Sometimes it can be hard to get momentum between rounds two and three because you are missing a group of players.

“In December, with rounds four and five, you have a continuous group of players and a block of fixtures and it is important then to get momentum. Bu you have to make sure you capitalise on that momentum.

“You have to go into every game looking to get four points out of it. We all know how difficult it is to win away from home and we have to go to Sale Sharks first up in our pool.

“I’m sure they, like Saracens who are also in our pool, will be sitting down and looking at us and saying Thomond Park is a difficult place to go as well. We’ve played against Sale before and we know they have some very good players, so it is going to be a tough start for us.”

Leinster entertain London Wasps in their Champions Cup opener next week, with Matt O’Connor admitting: “Wasps have two of the most potent finishers in the game in Tom Varndell and Christian Wade, they will lift and enjoy the experience on show at the RDS.

“The reality is that Wasps are a very dangerous side. We’re going to have to be very accurate in what we do defensively in that game. When the groups came out we thought it was tough. But what we did last year, going to tough places and getting a result, gave guys confidence.

“We were brilliant on the road last year and we’ll be trying to continue with the fortress of the RDS and back that up with good performances.

“It’s about doing everything you can to limit their opportunities to get anything out of the game. And you do anything you can to get a result.”

Ulster will open the pool stages with a tricky trip to Leicester Tigers as they look to repeat their 22-19 Heineken Cup success at Welford Road last January.

“Going to Welford Road, it is going to very competitive, a bit strange because we played them last year,” explained the province’s backs coach Neil Doak.

“They are a tough English side and it will give them an opportunity to start afresh in a new competition where there is a different intensity.

“We played the Scarlets earlier in the league and it was a great game, both sides scored tries and it was draw in the end. And Toulon, as everyone knows, are the champions of Europe and one of the toughest teams out there.”

Provinces’ European Rugby Champions Cup Fixtures