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ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
This tournament is growing as a spectacle by the year and again it promises much this time around. It was an eyebrow raising week prior to the action though with Scottish teams lowering Irish colours as Borders beat Leinster and Edinburgh, Munster. What a confidence building result in particular for Steve Bates' Borders team.
I cannot help wondering whether the Irish eyes were not slightly out of focus with what awaits them over the horizon. If Gloucester and Leicester think the results signs of weakness they will be rudely shocked. The chances of them thinking that way is probably nil anyway.
But it will be fascinating to see Munster perform as champions. Will the lifted burden of being the nearly men inspire them towards greatness and a second title or will they find the intangible missing will the barrier that stops them progressing. Welford Road is as good a place as any to find some answers.
The Tigers are winning but a long way from any sort of form. They are vulnerable but it takes 80 ferocious minutes of visiting commitment to win there. This game just about shades it as my match of the weekend. Mind, it could have a lot to do to eclipse another Anglo-Irish clash between Leinster, another genuine contender and Gloucester who will see this tournament as one where their youngsters have little to lose.
Dean Ryan's side is one of huge potential but the potential will need to be realised as it has yet to be in England so far this season to get a result in Ireland. It might be that a bonus point defeat will quietly leave them content in a group with no easy games but the Kingsholm factor working in favour of the Cherry and Whites. Edinburgh showed last weekend they could beat the best on a given day. It could be a group where home wins are vital and away points a scrambled mercy.
The same applies to the pool which sees the Ospreys, Sale and Stade Francais. The French giants blew their pool stage last season but have started confidently in France. Sale are the best bet of the English teams, simple as that. If Ospreys come out of this pool they will have done brilliantly. They have the skills to go close, do they have the physicality up front?
Another Welsh team I look forward to seeing are Cardiff Blues. They have a strong squad, good form and even with Munster and Leicester to contend with, a vocal crowd that will lift them at home, especially at the Millenium Stadium the week after next against those Tigers.
Edinburgh are always enjoyable to watch and likely to wreck a favourites chances at home while the Italians are slowly on the rise and a threat on home soil. Who will win? I would like a few weeks to see the stars perform beyond their regular borders but I'll narrow it down to Leinster, Munster, Sale, Biarritz or Stade. Let the action commence…now to this week's questions.