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ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
They are not doing particularly well in the French championship but they are in one of the weakest pools with Border Reivers, Northampton Saints and Overmach Parma, so they should come through there.
The pain on Serge Blanco's face said everything when they lost to Munster in last year's final - although Munster deserved to win that game. It is all the incentive they need to go all the way this year.
I think it is going to be their year but they will have to add a little more imagination to the grunt that took them only so far last year.
STADE FRANCAIS PARIS
Another team that could do great things this year is Stade Francais. They are a team to watch out for purely because they have won ten of their last 11 games in the French Top 14, including wins over Biarritz and Toulouse, and are playing some fantastic rugby.
The try count is 32 for and eight against and they are putting sides away. They are one of the most frustrating sides that I have seen over the past two seasons but they are playing with the ball in hand now.
You have to have the A game and the B game. Biarritz won't be able to just come and be grizzly because teams like Stade Francais can play both games.
Leinster have beaten Munster, their conquerors in last year's semi-finals, in the Magners League already this year in the first time that all of the big players were out.
They have a sensational back line but the forwards have hardened up a bit and the back five in the pack is very pacy.
The key man for them is Felipe Contepomi. The Argentine fly-half was brilliant when they won the quarter final against Toulouse last year but we know what happened when Munster got hold of him in the next match.
He has to keep his head and if he does his thing, Leinster have the best British or Irish chance against the two French powerhouses Biarritz and Stade Francais.
DANNY CIPRIANI - WASPS
Everyone is talking about him, Lawrence Dallaglio is saying he is good enough to be the starting ten, so let's see him play in the Heineken Cup as the next step up to playing internationals.
If he is good enough, he will come to the fore and start doing things at this level. If the hype is matched by performances, he will be well worth watching.
JAMES HOOK - OSPREYS
The reports are that this guy could be the Wales inside centre come the autumn internationals, he is that good.
They believe down in the Valleys that this Hook could be the next best thing, maybe even better, so I am looking forwards to getting a closer look at him.
FELIPE CONTEPOMI - LEINSTER
The Leinster forwards know they have to win the ball. If they get parity they can deliver Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy and those great backs lots of great ball.
Contepomi was the hero when they beat Toulouse and the villain when they lost to Munster. He is crucial to Leinster's chances. If he plays well and gets the back line moving, Leinster could go all the way