Some of the biggest names in the northern hemisphere turned up in the Heineken Cup final city of Cardiff on Monday to offer their views of the forthcoming campaign.
Brian O'Driscoll, Jason Robinson, Simon Easterby and Matt Dawson were just a few of the players who attended the season's launch at the Hilton Hotel, Cardiff. Also in the audience were coaches Ian McGeechan, Dai Young, Gareth Jenkins, Steve Diamond, Paul Turner and Lyn Jones.
Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, welcomed the tournament back to its 'spiritual home' before ERC chief executive Derek McGrath set the scene for the new season.
ERC also announced that two former Heineken Cup winners, Ieuan Evans (Bath 1998) and Rob Howley (London Wasps 2004), will be joined by the current Miss Wales, Claire Evans, as 'ERC Ambassadors' for the 11th Heineken Cup final at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 20 May.
The Pool matches kick-off on Friday, 21 October when Sale Sharks host Munster, Ulster welcome Benetton Treviso and Glasgow Warriors travel to Bourgoin. It promises to be an explosive start with the best of the action being captured by ERC's broadcast partners Sky Sports, RTE, France Televisions, Sport + and Sky Italia.
Cardiff Blues coach David Young, who's team face Leeds Tykes, Rugby Calvisano and Perpignan in Pool 2, said a home-town venue for the Cup final was a huge incentive for his players to go one better than the side of 1996 that reached the inaugural final at the old Cardiff Arms Park.
"It's obviously at the back of our minds that a game at the Millennium Stadium is there at the end. I think it would be great if one of the four Welsh regions could make that final," said Young.
Llanelli Scarlets director of rugby Gareth Jenkins has led his side to two semi-finals and will have to take his team to the home of the reigning champions Toulouse for their first outing in this season's 'Pool of Death' - Toulouse, Llanelli Scarlets, London Wasps and Edinburgh Gunners.
"The Heineken Cup is the pinnacle of the season for all the teams that take part. It is what we build towards and where we find the ultimate test of how good we are," said Jenkins.
"We lost at home to Toulouse in the first game of last season and so we will be travelling looking for a better result this time. They are a great club, the leaders in Europe, but we gave them a fright in the return game last season and we will travel with a lot of hope."
England and Lions scrum half Matt Dawson, who has vast experience in the tournament with both Northampton Saints and London Wasps, says he is expecting the standard to be even higher this season than ever before.
"The general standard across the board is rising. Even though the French and English have dominated recent finals you always look at the teams in the Celtic League.
Munster, Leister, Llanelli Scarlets and now Edinburgh and realise they are going to be hugely competitive," said Dawson.
In past years you would have looked to have seen who had the harder or easier Pool. Now it is just taken for granted that all the Pools are tough - it is just as hard to qualify from any of the six Pools."
Wales Under 18 captain Callum Bradbury is delighted to have seen his side claim a narrow 18-17 victory against a strong SA Schools 'A' side to end the three-match Under 19 International Series in South Africa on a high note.
The Wales U18 squad spent an emotional day in the drug-riddled townnship of Hout Bay. Hout Bay Warriors President Fred Johannes said the visit was 'the talk of the town' and will dream about the day everyday for the rest of his life.
RGC 1404's new head coach Mark Jones is hoping to build 'something special' in north Wales and is already looking forward to the development region participating in the Principality Premiership for the very first time.
A joint venture between the WRU and Admiral saw hundreds of children enjoy the Admiral Festival of Rugby held at the National Centre of Excellence at the weekend where Welsh internationals Sam Warburton, Scott Williams and Rob Evans were in attendance.
Wll Jones leads Wales U18s into battle this afternoon against Italy where the Welsh side will be seeking to bounce back from their narrow defeat to SA Schools in their opening clash of the U19 International Series
All four regions attended a successful training camp staged last weekend at the WRU National Centre of Excellence. It was a chance for new Wales Women's head coach Rowland Phillips to deliver his key messages to players and coaches as he prepares for the new season.
Wales U18 Team Manager Gethin Watts believes the next couple of weeks will be 'extremely beneficial' to the future of Welsh rugby as his side prepare to take part in the Under 19 International Series being staged in South Africa.
The WRU is searching for 12 new rugby development apprentices following a successful first year of its WRU Coach Core programme. Craig Duncan and Jess Hancock have flourished in the first year of the programme which has given them a real direction in their lives.
The WRU signed TV comedian Rhod Gilbert up to a 'Coaching Children Level 1' course before letting him loose on an U8s side at Whitland Junior Borderers - we went behind the scenes to film the making of 'Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience' see the results here.
Llandovery are aiming to make it three titles in a row in this year's Foster's National 7s being held at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park on Sunday 28 August. Drovers assistant coach Simon Davies and Lee Rees assess their sides chances
A pioneering strength and conditioning programme has been delivered to more than 8000 boys and girls at hub schools throughout Wales this season, helping to develop stronger, more flexible athletes for rugby and other sports.