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Just like a Final first-up

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What a way to start, two of the biggest teams in Europe head to head in the opening round of the 2012/13 Heineken Cup.

Toulouse, four-time winners and the powerhouse of French rugby over many years, against two-time winners and five-time finalists Leicester Tigers, the powerhouse of English rugby for a generation.

It’s an occasion that wouldn’t look out of place in the knockout stages of the top club competition in the world.

But here we are, toe to toe in Round 1.

Imagine Barcelona and AC Milan warming up for the Champions League by facing each other in the first round, or Oxford and Cambridge meeting in the preliminary rounds of the Boat Race.

In European Cup rugby there is no time to settle in and grow, you have to hit the ground running.

You don’t get a chance to work your way into a tournament that could be over after just six games. Every point, any point, will be absolutely vital.

Players and coaches will often describe the Heineken Cup as a step away from Test rugby, but in pure results terms it is even beyond that.

World Cups rarely see big guns eliminated before the knockout stages because there is still a gulf between the very best and the rest. In European cup competition that gap is so much narrower, especially with the likes of Treviso – who happen to be in Tigers’ group – consolidating national talent into their ranks and the Scots now making progress, as seen by Edinburgh’s advance last year.

So this is it, an early chance to see what the pool is made of, where points can be taken and where rivals can be denied.

It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be interesting.