Jones: Don't write off Ospreys
Alun-Wyn Jones has warned that the Ospreys intend making their presence felt in this season's Heineken Cup - despite facing a so-called "Pool of Death".
The Welsh challengers, Heineken quarter-fnalists on three occasions, face triple European champions Leinster, English heavyweights Northampton and French Top 14 title-holders Castres.
They start against Liberty Stadium visitors Leinster on Saturday, when Wales lock Jones will be joined by three of his fellow 2013 British and Irish Lions - hooker Richard Hibbard, prop Adam Jones and flanker Justin Tipuric - in a powerful Ospreys pack.
"I think in some people's eyes we are potentially going to be a bit of a sideshow in the group after what happened a couple of years ago in the final with Leinster and Northampton, and with Castres being French champions," said Jones, the Lions' third-Test captain Down Under.
"We don't want to be just making up the numbers, we want to be as near to the top of the pool as we can. We've got a home game first, and hopefully we can use that to our advantage.
"It is the first game of a six-match block that will test us and push us all the way, but we need to stand up and deliver on and off the field. That is something we haven't done in this competition in the past, maybe.
"The very nature of the competition means that you have six difficult games and there is never any margin for error, whoever you are pooled with.
"It's not like a season-long league where you can catch up if you get off to a slow start. Lose your opening games in this competition, and that's it. It is such an unforgiving competition."
With top English and French clubs pressing on to launch the Rugby Champions Cup next term after ending their interest in European Rugby Cup-run competitions, this season's Heineken tournament will be the last in its current guise.
It is, though, unlikely to go quietly, judging by an opening weekend's fixtures alone that include Northampton visiting Castres, Gloucester hosting Perpignan, Harlequins entertaining Scarlets and French rivals Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro going head-to-head.
Northampton show five changes for the trip to Castres, including a debut for Australia international prop Salesi Ma'afu, while centre Luther Burrell has also made the starting XV despite going off injured during last weekend's Premiership draw against Leicester.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies, meanwhile, makes a number of changes following the 29-12 home drubbing by Exeter last time out, with full-back Rob Cook, wing Jonny May, scrum-half Jimmy Cowan and young lock Elliott Stooke among those called up.
"We were all hugely disappointed, but we are very frustrated and eager to make amends for last week. We are anxious to do well, but we can't let that anxiety creep into our performance," Davies said.
The Scarlets, despite suffering six successive pool stage exits, could make life tricky for Pool Four rivals Quins at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.
Their recent European experiences include a bonus-point victory at Northampton and Scarlets' Wales and Lions centre Jonathan Davies said: "Hopefully, we can draw on our experiences from games like that Northampton win and use it as positively as we can.
"People wrote us off completely in that game but we went up there and got a bonus-point win. The most important thing is to go to Harlequins with the attitude of doing a job."
Quins have won just two of their five Premiership games so far this term, and even if they account for Scarlets this weekend, Clermont and Racing are still looming large.
"We've had a difficult couple of weeks," Quins rugby director Conor O'Shea said. "We've lost the last two matches, so it (the Heineken Cup) has come at a great time for us.
"We feel that as a group we have started the season way too slowly, and we want to put that right this weekend."
Sunday's Heineken Cup action sees holders Toulon begin their campaign at home to unbeaten RaboDirect PRO12 leaders Glasgow, with Exeter entertaining Cardiff Blues.