Just 25 years ago Toulouse became the first European champions with a scintillating victory over Cardiff in the Welsh capital. This time around the Ospreys are the only Welsh representatives in the Heineken Champions Cup having been drawn in a pool alongside defending champions Saracens, French giants Racing 92 and Irish powerhouse Munster.
Cardiff Blues, Dragons and Scarlets will have high hopes of competing to win the European Challenge Cup. With all roads leading to finals weekend in Marseille’s in May here is what some of the biggest names in European rugby had to say ahead of next weekend’s big kick-off:
“Everyone knows we are up against some serious contenders in our pool. They all have tremendous strength in depth, tremendous following, and the pedigree of competing at the top of their leagues.
“We will put in performances with a determination to get wins in this competition.”
“We’re looking forward to it as a team. We’ve not got off to the best start this year, we’re not where we want to be, so this is a fresh competition and hopefully we’ll get back on track and get where we want to be in the remainder of the season.
“If you ask any Cardiff Blues player the highlight of their club career, the Challenge Cup win would be right at the top. Beating Pau in the semi-final in front of our home fans was brilliant and then it was a great occasion for the squad, all our families and our fans to come to Bilbao and beat Gloucester the way we did.
“It sticks in a lot of our memories as a real highlight.”
“It’s an unbelievably special competition, one that we’ve been lucky enough to have some success in over the years, and we’re trying to add to that now. The fifth star is a huge motivation for the club. It’s something that Stu [Lancaster, Leinster’s senior coach] mentioned when he first came into the club.
“It wasn’t about the fourth star, but trying to get to five, which no other club has done. We came so close last year.
“It just wasn’t to be against a great Saracens team, but hopefully we can go another step further this year.”
“Last year Toulouse rediscovered the European Cup and got their taste back for it,” remarked Emile after their semi-final appearance. “Buoyed by their French title, Toulouse are going to be ambitious [this season].
“But clubs will be wary of them. Trips to Gloucester, Montpellier and Connacht [in Pool 5] won’t be easy. We know very well that there is very little to choose between the teams in this competition. There are often surprises.
“But Toulouse harbour many ambitions this season and I dream that they will be present in the final in Marseille. That would be extraordinary.”