The men who will contest the Heineken Cup at the Irish launch
The fourteenth season of the Heineken Cup is up and running on the long haul to the Edinburgh 09 final next May.
The Irish launch of the tournament took place in Malahide, Co. Dublin today (29 September) with 2008 Heineken Cup winning captain Paul O'Connell declaring their first hurdle, at home to newcomers Montauban, will be a new huge challenge.
"They have recruited very well, are seventh in the French Championship and beat Castres at the weekend," said the Munster lock.
"We will try our best to hang on to the cup but, as it has already been proved, that is a very hard thing to do and first and foremost, you have to get out of your Pool. We negotiated our way through it very successfully last year so we will try to do that again.
Ulster rugby also open against French opposition with Stade Francais Paris making the trip to Ravenhill, while Leinster start their challenge on the road against Edinburgh.
"Stade Francais will be one of the favourites to win the Heineken Cup and we need to make Ravenhill the fortress it was in past seasons," said Ulster captain Rory Best.
"While Munster have been crowned kings of Europe twice and Ulster walked off winners in 1999, Leinster have never qualified for a showpiece final and captain Leo Cullen is setting his sights on getting back to Edinburgh in May.
"We are in a tough Pool, the standards get better and better and year by year it gets harder and harder to win the Heineken Cup."
Derek McGrath, chief executive of tournament orgainsers ERC, announced that over 15,000 tickets have already been sold for the Edinburgh final.
"We have 420 internationals from 24 countries registered for this season's tournament and that gives you some idea of the global perspective of the Heineken Cup," he said.
"Television camera's will be eleven of the 12 round 1 matches and that interest is also reflected in the way club's are making efforts to expand their venues and take these events to bigger stadia."
The French launch will take place in Paris tomorrow (30 September), and the main launch will take on October 6 at the final venue in the Scottish capital.
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.