Prowling Tigers await champs
By Ben Blackmore. Last Updated: October 11, 2006 10:20am
Leicester Tigers head coach Pat Howard insists his men cannot wait for the Heineken Cup kick-off, despite the fact it brings them face-to-face with European champions Munster.
The Tigers have not lifted the coveted trophy since 2002 when, ironically, they beat Munster 15-9 at the Millennium Stadium.
Cardiff was a much more hospitable home for the Irishmen last season though, as they defeated Biarritz 23-19 to mark their name on the Cup for the very first time.
Leicester are the first team to challenge the defending champions when they arrive at Welford Road, and Howard insists it is the ultimate fixture to start the campaign.
"It's a great tester but at the same stage it won't make the pool," the Australian told Sky Sports News.
"It's a great way to start off to make sure you don't go into the first game lightly, and I'm sure they're thinking the same thing.
"Both teams respect each other, we know it's going to be a tough game but we're looking forward to it."
Leicester can draw inspiration from Sale Sharks' efforts against Munster, after they beat the champions 27-13 in the opening game of last year's competition.
The Stockport-based club eventually succumbed to a gritty Biarritz in San Sebastien, but forward Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe insists they are determined to go all the way this time around.
"The aim for all the players is to win the Cup, so we are all very focused," said Lobbe.
"Philippe (Saint-Andre) and all the staff and all the players want to do well in every competition, we don't want to sleep on last season's championship."
One man who can only dream of sleeping on a championship is Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll, who suffered semi-final heartbreak in last year's Heineken Cup and final day agony in the Celtic League.
The Ireland talisman is determined to add medals to his world class reputation, and he admitted it does not get any bigger than the Heineken Cup.
"Obviously, it would be one of the biggest highlights of anyone's career to win it," O'Driscoll told Sky Sports.
"I'm no different to anyone else, I want to look back at the end of my career having won silverware, and at the moment I don't have too much in the cupboard."
Wales coach Gareth Jenkins believes O'Driscoll stands to be disappointed however, predicting a Welsh resurgence after the Blues, Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons all fell short of the quarter-final stage last season.
"I know the three Welsh regional coaches are looking forward to going into Europe, and I really believe they can all be highly competitive," said Jenkins.
"Recent regional form has been good, and we have measured up well against our English counterparts in the EDF Energy Cup. We have talent, we seem fresh and we are up for it."
The opening weekend of the Heineken Cup kicks off on Friday 20th October.