7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Munster did it again in France against Bourgoin and Leinster Lions looked strong in thrashing Biarritz Olympique, while there was English success for Leeds Tykes, Sale Sharks and London Wasps, who were the most impressive of all, superb in the first hour against Perpignan.
Friday sees Leinster travel across the Irish Sea to take on Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park in my first Sky live assignment this week. Leinster have gone with the side which were way too good for Biarritz, no great surprise there, and centre Shane Horgan was superb, he is much more than just a `big bosh` winger. It's only because Kevin Maggs has been playing so well that we've not seen Horgan alongside Leinster colleague Brian O'Driscoll for Ireland.
Leinster have won their last five matches against Welsh opposition and Cardiff have been struggling this season. Chatting with coach Dai Young and captain Martyn Williams, they feel the team are playing well, but not getting the win. I can back that up after watching them at Sale, where there were some really good performances from Jamie Robinson and Craig Quinnell - what a weekend for the Quinnell brothers after Scott's majestic display against the Saints.
It was annoying from Young and Williams' point of view that they didn't get the win at Stockport, and there might be a bit of trepidation knowing this is a must-win game (an over-used term but very valid even this early on as no-one can risk finishing second in their pool - you've got to win your home games).
Also on Friday night, can Ulster upset French champions Stade Francais in Belfast? I think they can, they are very strong at Ravenhill and will have even more edge after being taken on up front by the Dragons, who fully deserved that win at Newport. The visit of Nick Mallett's Stade brings back memories of the dramatic 1999 semi-final, won 33-27 by Ulster.
People talk about `groups of death`...I say, is there a `group of life` in this Heineken Cup? They are all so tight and Ulster are in the same situation as Cardiff - defeat is not on the agenda.
The task for week one surprise packages Edinburgh Rugby is to follow up with a victory in south Wales against Neath-Swansea Ospreys. It's difficult to call, if Edinburgh can do it on their travels - and this will be just as much of a challenge as Toulouse at home - then it will certainly prove a point and be a huge psychological boost. I'm going for a home win in this one, though.
I expect a Toulouse backlash against Leeds Tykes at Stade Ernest Wallon. Leeds admit that this is their `World Cup`, director of rugby Phil Davies admitted to me that they have got here quicker than they thought, and I just think they might have to write this one off as a learning experience. You Leeds fans enjoy the wine down there!!
On Saturday, London Wasps and Gloucester should both make it two wins out of two. Wasps are in Italy against Calvisano and will have too much for their hosts, while the Kingsholm factor will prove to be too awesome for Philippe Saint-Andre's Bourgoin as the former Gloucester coach returns to the west country.
Northampton Saints have a tough job on their hands against a rugged Agen side at Franklin's Gardens. It was plain to see from the French club's match against The Borders how much they have up front, but I think home advantage is key and Northampton are another team in must-win territory.
Our first Sky live match on Saturday is Celtic Warriors' visit to the Pyrenees to take on Perpignan. The Catalans were dismal at times in Wycombe on Sunday, and were also made to look poor. I can't see them being as bad as that again, and with Daniel Herbert, Scott Robertson and possibly Tim Stimpson in the mix this time I can't see beyond them.
Munster are also on the Sky Sports menu with, on the face of it, a home banker against Benetton Treviso. After the superb start in Bourgoin, which proved the Irishmen are a big match team, I can't see them failing but I'm backing Sale Sharks to cause an upset on Sunday against Biarritz Olympique.
Sale, with Charlie Hodgson and Jason Robinson back, have raised their game and Jason White was also a key man in the back row against Cardiff, an area where they have really missed the injured Pete Anglesea. I think the Sharks can scrap it out in the Basque region, and I have a sneaky feeling for them.
Also on Sunday, there is a superb day in The Borders, where the local side take on Llanelli Scarlets at Netherdale in Galashiels - live on Sky Sports. I know they are really looking forward to this day in one of the traditional strongholds of the game. I hope they have a big crowd and a really good day, but I don't think their team will win.
Leicester Tigers are also live on Sky Sports on Sunday, as they welcome The Dragons to Welford Road. Dean Richards has got his first-choice pack fit for this match and that eight is something to put the frighteners on any team. Saturday's defeat in Paris means the Tigers are another must-win side and, as always, will have a big crowd to back them.
I think the former kings of Europe will get back on track this weekend, although they will face a side with a very good pack, and an energy to build something really new down in Gwent. Dragons coach Mike Ruddock has so much knowledge from European campaigns with Swansea and Leinster and has an excellent right-hand man in Clive Griffiths. It might be a bit early for them this time, though.
PREDICTIONS: I'm going for Cardiff to spring a surprise against Leinster, but no shocks at Welford Road for the Tigers.