18 May, 15:44
It's down to the wire now for the five contenders who have been shortlisted for the ultimate individual accolade in northern hemisphere rugby, ERC European Player of the Year 2013.
When the curtain goes down on the final at Stadium Australia on 22nd November one might expect the rugby world to go into a collective state of cold turkey having overdosed on six weeks of the sport's greatest event. Not so for European players and fans alike whose fix of top class rugby will continue in the form of the Heineken Cup which gets under way only 13 days later.
English club, Leeds Tykes, are one of three newcomers to the ninth season of Heineken Cup competition. Involvement in the Heineken Cup brings with it many benefits and opportunities, not least the chance for a club such as this to gauge itself in terms of competitiveness as it takes on Europe's best after only two seasons experience in top flight rugby.
The recent news that Head Coach, Jon Callard, and Director of Rugby, Phil Davies, have both put pen to paper committing themselves to the club for two and four years respectively is a great boost for the club. Their signings are important in terms of stability at the club as Callard was out of contract and had been linked with the previously vacant Director of Rugby role at Leinster earlier in the summer.
The Tykes are virtual rugby union novices compared to the institutions of the game which we have become accustomed to watching over the years. Founded in 1992 the club has made remarkable progress since gaining its first promotion from the English League's fourth division in 1996. Promotion to the Zurich Premiership was achieved in 2001 and although finishing bottom of the table the following season, (with the highest ever points total for a bottom placed team), the club managed to stay up as Rotherham failed to meet the promotion qualification criteria set. Last season, however, saw significant improvement as the Tykes finished a highly credible fifth and so booked their place in this season's Heineken Cup.
The two years in the Zurich Premiership have seen the comings and goings of some top internationals including All Black, Steve Bachop, and Springbok, Braam Van Straaten, who departed for Sale this summer. Leeds has evidently become an attractive option for top class players following last year's exploits. England international Phil Christophers and Italian Aaron Persico have come on board from Bristol and Viadana this summer adding to a squad which includes the likes of David Rees, Mark Regan, Gordon Ross and Gavin Kerr.
While not complete European novices - they played in the Parker Pen Challenge Cup last season (losing to Pontypridd in the second round) - Leeds have been handed a baptism of fire having been drawn in Pool 2 to play Heineken Cup Champions, Toulouse, along with Edinburgh Rugby and new Welsh region, The Ospreys.
The club is obviously excited by the prospect. 'Qualifying for the Heineken Cup was a massive achievement and a dream come true for a club that has been in existence for little over 10 years' said Tykes Press Officer Phil Daly. 'Headingly Stadium has a proud tradition in Rugby League and Cricket. That said when we host Heineken Cup Champions Toulouse it will be one of the biggest nights in its 110 year history'.
If last season's performances are anything to go by it should be no surprise if Headingly becomes the scene of many memorable European matches in the coming years.