The waiting for the 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup is almost over and what better way to kick-start Heineken’s return as headline sponsor of Europe’s elite club competition than tonight’s Pool 1 encounter between defending champions Leinster Rugby and two-time winners Wasps at the RDS Arena.

All four clubs in Pool 1 are previous champions, with Toulouse level with Leinster’s title tally of four, while Bath Rugby, who play host to the French club live on four TV channels (BT Sport, who are covering every game live, Channel 4, Virgin Media and beIN SPORTS) on Saturday, triumphed in 1998.

When Wasps were last in a pool with Leinster, in 2015/16, they won both home and away games, but the Irish province will be attempting to stretch their winning run in the tournament to 10 games, after becoming only the second team – after Saracens in 2015/16 – to win all nine matches in the same season in 2017/18.

In contrast, five of the Round 1 matches – Exeter Chiefs v Munster, Montpellier v Edinburgh Rugby, Gloucester Rugby v Castres Olympique, Lyon v Cardiff Blues and RC Toulon v Newcastle Falcons – feature clubs who are playing each other for the first time in Europe’s top flight.

Lyon’s Pool 3 game against the 2018 European Rugby Challenge Cup winners at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland on Sunday will be their debut in the tournament. 

Cardiff are one of three teams who will be playing their first European Cup ties since 2014 this weekend. Edinburgh and 2018 Challenge Cup runners-up Gloucester are the others. 

For Newcastle, though, their Pool 5 match at the Stade Felix Mayol on Sunday bridges an even bigger gap, since their last appearance in Europe’s elite club competition was back in 2005. 

An extra carrot for the Falcons this season is that Finals Weekend takes place at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park on May 11 and 12. Click here to book tickets for the climaxes to the Heineken Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup. 

By then the total attendance for matches since the tournament’s inception in 1995 will have passed the 20-million mark. 

Friday’s game has already pointed the way for the competition’s popularity, with the RDS Arena heading for a sell-out as Leinster bid to stretch their record total of European Cup titles to five.