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 7s Manager Steff Thomas believes Luke Treharne has all the attriubutes to be a top class captain. WRU TV's Graeme Gillespie hears his reasons why as the squad prepare for the opening two legs of the new World Series in Dubai and South Africa.
The British & Irish Cup kicks off this weekend with the four Regional Premiership Select XVs flying the flag for Wales. Welsh
Sat 14 Nov: Blues Premiership Select v Nottingham (2.30) & Connacht Eagles v Dragons (2.30)
Sun 15 Nov: Yorkshire Carnegie v Ospreys Premiership Select (1.30) & Scarlets v Bedford Blues (3.00)
The Welsh Rugby Union is forming a new Youth Board with a brief to help keep more young people involved in the game during their late teenage years and beyond. The first task of the fifteen strong Board will be to analyse and consider the issues which lead to a number of youngsters drifting away from the sport between the ages of 16 and 21. To apply visit www.wru.wales/youthboard
The Foster's Challenge Cup will involve the 12 Principality Premiership sides and will run during European and British & Irish Cup weeks, providing vital fixtures for the participating clubs and an opportunity for upcoming players to step up to semi-professional rugby and make a claim for starting places within the Premiership squads.
Eighty schools and colleges in Wales now have a full time rugby officer as part of the WRU's school club hub scheme. All of the school club hub officers recently gathered at the National Centre of Excellence for various workshops.
With Liam Williams forced out of the World Cup through injury, lock Luke Charteris and Skills Coach Neil Jenkins say they have to put yesterday's defeat behind them as Wales now look ahead to another physical encounter against South Africa in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
WRU Consultant Head of Physical Performance Paul Stridgeon praises the Physical Performance department for their work and dedication as he addresses the media ahead of Wales' Pool A clash against Australia
Twelve young people have been selected to follow a one year WRU Coach Core apprenticeship programme. Coach Core was set up by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry as part of the Olympics legacy in 2012 and the Duke of Cambridge was on hand to meet the apprentices on their first day in the job. The programme has been funded by the Hunter Foundation.