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ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
Everywhere you look across each weekend of matches, there are subscripts, plots, individual battles and the promise of sensational, scintillating, tough, physical rugby. Players will charge into action with points to prove and international places to claim. Youngsters will try to upset seasoned campaigners whilst old warhorses and experienced foes will look to put youthful upstarts back in their place, all against the backdrop of the most unforgiving club competition in the world.
From cold, rainy Friday nights in Scotland to sun-drenched Sunday afternoons in the wine regions of South West France, reputations will count for little as teams strive for precious away wins and bonus points to go with hard-earned home victories on the road to the quarter finals.
Yet the intensity and toil that the players go through week in week out and the desire to constantly put their bodies on the line acts almost as a magnet to the very best of the international game. The best players in the world want to play in the Heineken Cup and the most prominent coaches from both hemispheres dream of tasting European glory. Dan Carter's move to Perpignan as opposed to Toulon, for Heineken Cup rugby, is a case in point of the lure and magic of the competition - the best player in the world enjoying a 'sabbatical' in a tournament that continues to get better and better, year on year.
You can bet that every player from across the 24 competing clubs would love to be walking out at Murrayfield on 23rd May next year, although few will be looking that far ahead right now. The first round of matches are all that matters for these players right now. So many of them will realise that you can't win the Heineken Cup in October but you can go a long way to losing it. A couple of dodgy results this early on and teams will be staring down the barrel in terms of quarter final qualification. A moment's hesitation, an eye off the ball and plans of European glory will come crashing down for another year.
Whatever happens, this season's fare is sure to match and better previous seasons with wonderful tries, nail biting games and classy individual performances. The Heineken Cup is back, and I can't wait for the action to get underway.