Exeter will aim to transfer their consistently-impressive domestic form to the European stage when they begin their Heineken Champions Cup campaign on Saturday.
Despite reaching the last three Premiership finals – winning one of them – and currently topping the league table, Exeter have yet to make a consistent mark in Europe.
They have progressed beyond the pool stage once in five attempts, and life is not about to get any easier, with Munster, French champions Castres and Gloucester in a group that only only one team is guaranteed qualification from.
“Everyone talks about Exeter being that little step away, but last season was probably the perfect example,” Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter said, ahead of Munster’s Sandy Park visit.
“We got the perfect start beating Glasgow and then Montpellier. Did we then let ourselves own a little bit against Leinster? Potentially, yes.
“When you look at how tight those two games were between us and them, it came down to some fine margins in the end. If we are honest, we probably let ourselves down a little in that first game.
“What we’ve talked about recently is that when you get those one or two scenarios that go against you, we now have to push ourselves on to that next level knowing we can drive our way through it.
“If you look at Leinster last year, especially in that second game, we had them under pressure, they were behind on the scoreboard, they had yellow cards, yet they still found a way to win the game. That is what we have to add.”
Bath begin against four-time European champions Toulouse at the Recreation Ground on Saturday, but they will do it without injured number eight Taulupe Faletau (broken arm), although fellow Wales international Jamie Roberts returns from a cheekbone injury.
“We want to go one better than last year and progress from what is another tough pool,” Bath rugby director Todd Blackadder said. “I’m confident we can do well.
“You have to take every point on offer in this competition. Our target is to win all our home matches and pick up some points on the road. We need to make sure we are consistent.”
Leicester will look to put patchy Premiership form behind them when they face Pool Four hosts Ulster in Belfast on Saturday, but they are without England wing Jonny May because of a shoulder injury suffered against Northampton last weekend.
“Jonny got a bang on the shoulder last week and there is no major damage, so it will certainly not be a long-term injury, but injuries also give opportunities to others to come in and make a claim to the shirt,” Tigers’ interim head coach Geordan Murphy said.
“Europe is always tough, Ulster have a very good record at home and we’ve not done well there in the past, but the guys want to test themselves at the top table and we are looking forward to it.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, last season’s Champions Cup semi-finalists Scarlets host 2018 runners-up Racing 92, while Edinburgh face a tough Pool Five test away to Montpellier.
Sunday’s action sees Saracens – Champions Cup winners in 2016 and 2017 – beginning their title quest at Glasgow in Pool Three, while Newcastle return to top-flight European competition after a 14-year absence in Toulon, Gloucester host French champions Castres and Cardiff Blues travel to Lyon.