However, the competition is not in a sudden state of anaemia. Far from it. Two of last season's semi-finalists, Leicester and Cardiff, are in "must win" situations following early setbacks away from home and with only one team from each group guaranteed a place in the last eight, push has come to shove rather quicker than anticipated.
The Tigers travel to Les Sept-Deniers for an unenviable tussle with the French champions of Toulouse and with Joel Stransky in miserable form - Bob Dwyer, the Leicester coach, has never seen the World Cup-winning stand-off in such dire nick - the Midlanders' task looks close to hopeless. "We're flying on one wing," Dwyer said yesterday. "Toulouse will be a cauldron."
So too will be the Arms Park tomorrow. Cardiff, one-point losers in Bourgoin in the first round of matches and not entirely convincing in seeing off Munster last weekend, face an unbeaten Harlequins in the knowledge that defeat will almost certainly deny them an automatic quarter-final place.
Bourgoin, hammered by Quins six days ago, cannot afford a second defeat either and will have to sharpen up out of all recognition if they are to survive their hazardous visit to Limerick. They face an Irish outfit strengthened by the return of Mark McDermott at hooker and Shane Leahy at lock.
With Pool B leaders Wasps already odds-on favourites to progress to the knock-out phase after two wins on the road, Swansea must see off the quick and resourceful Glasgow district side to keep their own hopes alive. It is by no means a foregone conclusion; the All Whites travel to Scotstoun tomorrow without David Weatherley, Alan Harris, Paul Arnold, Alan Reynolds and their captain, Garin Jenkins. "It will be a hard old dog-fight," the skipper predicted. Not too canine in nature, one hopes.
Pontypridd, precariously placed in both the rugby and legal senses, should prove too much of a handful for the Scottish Borders - in the nicest possible way, of course - but the visit to Bath of Brive, their implacable foes from last weekend, is far more difficult to weigh up. The reigning champions go in without two influential internationals, Philippe Carbonneau and Christophe Lamaison, and their current state of mind suggests that their collective heart may go absent without leave.
Certainly, their task will not be eased by the presence of Ieuan Evans on Bath's right wing; the Lions hero makes his senior debut for the West Countrymen. Bath can also call on a second international wing in Adedayo Adebayo, now fully recovered from the stress fracture of the foot he suffered during England's tour of Argentina. That allows the brilliant youngster Matt Perry to play in his favoured position of midfield, alongside Phil de Glanville.
But Brive's staggering performance in last year's final proved conclusively they are one French side who can travel. If they do so successfully this afternoon, it will be a minor miracle.Reuse content