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."
Whenever Bedlinog tackle Penallta a massive fixure is guaranteed but this Sunday there will be even more emphasis placed on the two rivals when they contest the SSE Swalec Plate final at Principality Stadium.
Ahead of their SSE SWALEC Bowl Final clash with Taffs Well at Principality Stadium on Sunday, Burry Port share their #FABXV nomination with WRUTV in the search for Welsh rugby's greatest volunteers. Everyone can get involved by sending nominations via twitter to @WRU_Community using the hashtag #FABXV
Cardiff Blues prop Gethin Jenkins and Ospreys centre Ben John look ahead to the first game at Principality Stadium in Saturday's double header which is promising to be a special occasion for all Welsh fans.
Carmarthen Quins Director of Rugby Ian Jones and committee member Jeff Thomas along with Llandovery chairman Handel Davies look ahead to Sunday's SSE SWALEC Cup showdown where both teams are out to prove 'West is best'
SWALEC ambassador Shane WIlliams is looking forward to Sunday's Finals Day where the Cup, Bowl and Plate offers a great opportunity for players and teams to experience the magic of playing at Principality Stadium
Carmarthen Quins coach Richard Kelly believes it is an exciting time to be part of the Scarlets region as his side take on local rivals Llandovery in the SSE Swalec Cup final on Sunday, as WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie discovers
Scarlets long serving prop Phil John talks to WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie about Judgement Day IV and SSE Swalec Cup finals day. The last time Llandovery were in the cup final in 2007, the Drovers claimed the spoils with Phil playing a major role in the engine room.
Meet Aberdare coach Luke Thomas whose #FABXV nomination goes to super volunteer Daz with a whopping 10 things he does for the club each week, all except the ironing! You can also join in the search for Welsh rugby's greatest volunteers, by sending your nomination via twitter to @WRU_Community using the hashtag #FABXV
SSE Swalec Cup kings Pontypridd travelled to Swansea, fully expecting a return to their second home but Llandovery had other ideas as they also sought victory in the semi-final to earn the right to play the final at Principality Stadium