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Tigers face tough opening trip


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Latest rugby union news

Leicester are English rugby's undisputed kings of Europe.

The Aviva Premiership heavyweights have featured in five Heineken Cup finals - three more than any other English rival - and were European champions in 2001 and 2002 following victories over Stade Francais and Munster.

And there will be no shortage of desire, effort or commitment when they launch this season's European campaign next week at a ground where they came horribly unstuck on their last visit in January 2012.

Ulster crushed them 41-7 on that occasion, and the outcome of both fixtures against the Irish province could prove crucial with regard to deciding a group that also includes in-form French challengers Montpellier and Italy's top team Treviso.

"We have to go to one of the toughest places in Europe. First up, it is as tough as it gets, and we understand that," Tigers captain Toby Flood said.

"There is a slight mental shift when you go into the Heineken Cup in terms of how you approach games and attack games because it is much more like international rugby.

"But we have got a stand-out group of players, a lot of whom have played at those heights, and we have to make sure we are on it.

"If we are five per cent under, we will get turned over. They (Ulster) are an outstanding side."

Leicester have progressed from their qualifying pool 10 times in 16 European campaigns, and it is that level of consistency which will undoubtedly underpin another concerted title challenge this term.

What happens after that, though, is anyone's guess, with the tournament's future under a huge cloud after top English and French clubs announced they would play in a breakaway Rugby Champions Cup, rather than the existing Heineken format, from 2014-15.

"Ultimately, you are just getting on with it," added England fly-half Flood.

"You are trusting in what you hope are the right people making the right decisions, and that you end up in a tournament in whatever context it might be, that it's still good fun and a tournament you want to be part of."

And Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: "Everyone wants the European Cup to continue, but it's just in what format that is in. The politicians will have their discussions about those things.

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"I think everyone is agreed that we want a European competition, but as we all know, the ins and outs of how it is set up is going to have to change if it is to continue in the format it's in at the moment.

"Everyone would like to make it work, and hopefully we will get to a point where we can come to an agreement where it will continue in a format that is acceptable to all parties.

"From a playing and coaching point of view, we will just get on with it. Something will be put in place, and we will carry on organising and worrying about the playing side of things. Whatever is put in place, we will play with.

"The English clubs have been out of the European Cup before for various political reasons, but English sides came back in and it has been a very successful tournament for the last 14 or 15 years.

"I know from a coaching point of view that in the Premiership we have to be battling hard every week to qualify to get into Europe, which affects you for the next 12 months.

"Qualification from each league (Premiership, French Top 14 and RaboDirect PRO12) should be the same.

"The reality is why is it all right for Leicester, Bath or Wasps not to be in Europe, but it's not all right for Munster or Leinster or one of the others?

"If you are in the top six in the RaboDirect, you are in Europe, if you are not, you are not. It makes sense to me."

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