Toulouse set the benchmark for cup challenge

The reigning champions from France open their account against Llanelli Scarlets this evening before travelling to High Wycombe next Sunday, and by the look of their line-up they will take an awful lot of stopping.

Frédéric Michalak, perhaps the most gifted European player of his generation, is on the bench for the meeting with the Scarlets. Frighteningly, Toulouse could keep him there all afternoon and still gallop around with Clement Poitrenaud at full-back, Gareth Thomas and Cedric Heymans on the wings, Yannick Jauzion and Florian Fritz in midfield, Jean-Frédéric Dubois at stand-off and Jean-Baptiste Elissalde at scrum-half. Llanelli, armed with a couple of useful three-quarters in Mark Jones and Matthew Watkins but comparatively lightweight in other areas, must be dreading it.

The sheer weight of quality underpinning the French challenge for a third title in four years means the degree of unpredictability of the tournament is less than in previous seasons. Biarritz, who face Saracens in Watford tomorrow, are without the peerless Serge Betsen, who has a fractured cheekbone, yet they can still bring Nicolas Brusque, Damien Traille, Dimitri Yachvilli, Jerome Thion, Imanol Harinordoquy and the wonderful Thomas Lievremont to the party.

Stade Français, who will take on an injury-riddled Ospreys team in Swansea tomorrow, possess three forwards - the prop Pieter de Villiers, the Italian back-rower Sergio Parisse and the blond-bombshell breakaway Remy Martin - who are as effective as any in the competition and immeasurably better than most. Few sides on earth could shrug their shoulders at the absence of Christophe Dominici, Sylvain Marconnet, David Auradou and Mauro Bergamasco, but this lot can.

For the sake of English pride, it is therefore vital that Leicester put on a show against Clermont Auvergne at Welford Road this afternoon. The Midlanders' fortress is not always secure against the French hordes - Toulouse, Stade Français and Biarritz have all prevailed there down the years. However, Martin Corry's side still fancy their chances against the club formerly known as Montferrand, regardless of the fact that their first-choice Lions props, Graham Rowntree and Julian White, will be nowhere to be seen, thanks to injury and suspension.

"Our record against the French is not something that worries us," insisted their New Zealand centre, Daryl Gibson, whose iron commitment and profound understanding of the dynamics of high-standard rugby make him a central figure in the Leicester cause.

"This is a top-class competition, and it is inevitable that a team will lose a match or two. All we are concerned about is our own game. The Heineken Cup is a big step up, so in a way our season is only starting now, despite the fact we are seven games into it."

Leicester should make it home today, although Clermont Auvergne are nobody's fools, having beaten Stade Français at home in the French domestic championship and lost narrowly at Biarritz and Perpignan, where away victories are as rare as hen's teeth.

By the same yardstick, Wasps will expect a decent return from the trip tomorrow to Edinburgh, who boast Simon Taylor and Ally Hogg in a useful back row but are unlikely to match the pace and ferocity of the Londoners out wide.

In many ways the intrigue surrounds Bath, who take on Leinster in Dublin, and Leeds, who have yet to win a match in any competition this season but may just back themselves against Cardiff Blues at the Arms Park, on the basis that all bad things come to an end sooner or later.

The Bath team, certainly, are in high good humour, having defeated Gloucester a player short last weekend. With Brian O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie erased from the Leinster back-line, the West Countrymen may just exert sufficient pressure up front to come away with a result.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?