The Amlin Challenge Cup will break new ground when Cardiff Blues, Gloucester Rugby and the Scarlets join the five Amlin Pool winners in the knock-out stages this weekend...
The Amlin Challenge Cup will break new ground when Cardiff Blues, Gloucester Rugby and the Scarlets join the five Amlin Pool winners in the knock-out stages this weekend - with the tournament winner in late May now qualifying for both the 16th Heineken Cup and earning their country an additional place in that tournament.
The introduction of three of the Heineken Cup Pool runners-up joining the five Amlin group winners at the knock-out stage has injected a vibrant new interest into the tournament while the enhanced rewards on offer have increased the incentive
alongside the already considerable prestige of winning a European title.
And the parade of big name players includes almost 30 of those who recently graced the 2010 RBS 6 Nations tournament along with British & Irish Lions like Jonny Wilkinson, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley, Phil Vickery, Mike Tindall, Stephen Jones, Matthew Rees, Martyn Williams, Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell.
It all adds up to some potentially fascinating head-to-head contests such as Jonny Wilkinson v Stephen Jones; Carl Hayman v Gethin Jenkins; Joe Worsley v Gareth Delve and Sebastien Bruno v Matthew Rees.
Meanwhile, there is also no shortage of European champions still in the mix to add another title to their rolls of honour.
London Wasps already have three European crowns to their credit - two Heineken Cups (2004 and 2007) and one Amlin Challenge Cup (2003) - while Bourgoin (1997) and Gloucester Rugby (2006) are also former tournament winners.
As part of the build-up to next month's Cardiff 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals weekend, ERC has joined forces with the WRU, Cardiff Blues and adidas to develop an annual grassroots community rugby programme targeting young players.
The Ulster Rugby full back, Jared Payne (No 15), has been suspended for two (2) weeks following an independent Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin arising from the Heineken Cup quarter-final match against Saracens at Ravenhill Stadium on Saturday, 5 April.