The committee room negotiations have dominated the conversation so far but the on-pitch action begins this evening and will remind everyone of what a great tournament this is. The Heineken Cup provides a step up from each of the domestic leagues and is a good chance to see if the young guns can convert from potential into a first team fixture.
Iain Henderson: Henderson has been a Mole favourite since the 2012 u20 championship when he was involved in the thick of the action throughout. The baby faced second row stood out for his strength and football instinct. Senior recognition for Ulster came at blindside rather than second row and Henderson scored a fine try against Munster in the dog days of the 2012 RaboPro12 season. He gained further experience in South Africa as the Irish u20s put together a fine tournament and Nick Williams’ injury gives him a chance to start in the show.
Samson Lee: Llanelli made a number of signings during the off season designed to bolster their front five but the most significant addition to the senior squad looks to be local lad Lee. Blessed with an epic biblical name, Lee has already got RaboPro12 experience under his belt and has been tipped as the heir apparent to ‘Mr Irreplaceable’, Adam Jones, over the long term.
Gael Fickou: Father Time has done what so many midfields couldn’t manage and taken some edge off Yannick Jauzion. The big man is still about and now has to contend with competition from Fickou, who was seven when Jauzion made his test debut. Fickou is fast, strong and an aggressive tackler. Guy Noves’ coaching is sure to have installed good habits. Toulouse are perennial contenders so Fickou has the opportunity to get top level competition early in his career. He looks well able to handle it.
Rhys Patchell: Out half has been a problem position for Cardiff since Jamie Robinson left. Jason Tovey’s injury reduces their options even further and increases the likelihood of Patchell being thrust into the spotlight. Ron Weasley lookalike Patchell has represented Wales already at underage and 7s level. As well as having the running and handling ability necessary to play 7s, Patchell is also a goal kicker and has expressed his preference to be considered as a fly half. Cardiff’s early season form has been patchy but with the Big Bopper Jamie Roberts beside him, young Rhys will have the opportunity to get on the front foot. Wales’ outhalf factory continues to produce the goods.
Charlie Matthews: Harlequins have an attractive draw and last season’s Premiership victory marks them out as the English team most capable of making a challenge, seeing as perennial standard bearers Leicester are in a very tough group. Matthews isn’t a first team regular but front five forwards typically don’t fit the physical requirements of their position until they’re older. His lineout ability and the frequency of his involvement mark him as someone who can help ‘Quins maintain their progress.