The new-look PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP kicks-off on Friday with 1998 Heineken Cup champions Bath Rugby first into the action with their trip to GR.A.N. Rugby Parma on Friday night.
The 32 teams from eight nations taking part will be involved in a knock-out tournament consisting of home and away matches for all rounds up to the finals of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP and the PARKER PEN SHIELD at the end of May.
"We are now in the seventh season of a competition that has grown in stature and pre-eminence with each passing year and the new format for this season's tournament is designed to revitalise the competition," said ERC Chairman, Jean-Pierre Lux.
"The new format, of home and away matches, promises to provide some outstanding and highly competitive matches over the months ahead.
"Scotland are represented for the first time by the newly formed Borders team and are one of the 32 teams bidding to match the achievements of Bourgoin, Colomiers, Montferrand, Pau, NEC Harlequins and Sale Sharks in winning one of European club rugby's premier tournaments.
"There is also the added incentive of the PARKER PEN CHALLENGE CUP winners automatically qualifying for next season's Heineken Cup tournament when the final is staged on the last weekend of May, 2003."
The 16 unseeded teams are home in the first leg of Round 1 - seeded Bridgend perhaps drawing the shortest short straw by having to travel to Pau.
It all adds up to Bridgend players avoiding black cats like the plague but bad luck continues to haunt them this season.
"We're not having the best of luck," said former Wales wing and Bridgend Chief Executive Adrian Hadley.
"We've been hit by injuries to a couple of key backs, we play Leinster with all their internationals when everyone else gets their B team - and then we're drawn against Pau of all teams!
"But we just have to get on with it. We've all been to France before - we know what to expect."
Bridgend are coming off a poor performance against Cardiff, and Hadley is frustrated by his side's inability to score tries.
"Last season we were scoring tries all over the place, but getting beaten up front," he said.
"On Saturday, we hammered the Cardiff scrum and did well in the lineout but we didn't threaten out wide.
"Winning becomes a habit, but so does losing. We've got a lot of quality players out there - it's just a case of putting it all together on the field."
Key Bridgend players Sililo Martens and captain Gareth Thomas suffered knocks against Cardiff but Hadley expects both to be fit for the Pau match.
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