Two-time Champions Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio believes success in Europe will top the list of priorities for participating clubs managing a condensed calendar year.
When Northampton Saints and Bordeaux-Begles raise the curtain on a new season of European competition on Friday evening, it will mark 55 days since Exeter Chiefs lifted the trophy at Ashton Gate en route to their historic double-winning 2019-20 campaign.
Sporting a new format which will see teams compete across four rounds as opposed to the usual six, former Wasps and England back row Dallaglio says the onus placed on teams to avoid defeat is even higher due to a smaller haul of points available.
And that will see teams temper the risk of an early exit by banking on the influence of their best players, some of who face are facing the prospect of playing non-stop from August 2020 to next June thanks to the bridging of the two seasons.
“I think team selection gives a particularly indication of where teams prioritise the tournament,” said Dallaglio, who lifted the Heineken Cup trophy in 2004 and 2007.
“As far as I can remember – and it was a long time ago that I played – the strongest team you have is the one you play in this competition. I don’t know whether that has changed.
“Clearly, there is player welfare [to consider]. There are players who have played throughout the autumn internationals and there are some who maybe haven’t played as much. So the selection by the regions or clubs is based on what the coaches think gives them the best possible chance of winning.
“We all used to say if you lost a game you was under huge pressure. Well, I think in this new reduced format you would be under even more pressure, so I expect to see some very strong teams announced.”
For Premiership clubs, the player welfare agreement struck by the Professional Game Board in August made it mandatory for players to receive three weeks of rest for the 2020-21 season.
All roads lead to the final in Marseille on May 22, by which time a Premiership player that also competes in the Six Nations could feature in up to 26 games in the space of five months.
Come what may, Dallaglio is expecting the Champions Cup to provide the antidote to what many called a dreary Autumn Nations Cup competition this autumn in lieu of the usual autumn internationals against the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies.
Dallaglio added: “We are all looking forward to it. For whatever reason the autumn internationals didn’t quite capture the spirit of rugby, in terms of the rugby that was played. You can’t blame anyone, it was a new tournament and there were a lot of problems with Covid so it didn’t quite take off.
“This tournament never lets anyone down and looking at the fixtures there are some tasty matches to look forward to.”
Watch every single Heineken Champions Cup fixture live on BT Sport, starting with Northampton Saints v Bordeaux Begles Friday 11 December from 5pm on BT Sport 2