Leinster open their defence of the Heineken Cup against high-flying London Irish at the RDS on Friday night with captain LEO CULLEN well aware they are there to be shot at…

“It was tough enough winning the Heineken Cup last season but I guess it is going to be even tougher defending it – we certainly won’t have any element of surprise on our side this time,” said Cullen.

“The squad is desperately hungry to move on and build on the success of last season but the standard of teams simply gets better every year and the French teams in particular have recruited very heavily and will be a massive challenge.

“London Irish are a very strong physical side with a number of powerful runners, superbly coached by Toby Booth.

“They will be a real handful and a huge challenge but, as we also like to play a brand of attacking rugby it should be some match.

“We were a bit ragged getting out of our group last season and it wasn’t always the prettiest.

“We could have easily gone out in the quarter-finals but being a bit under the radar might have helped us and we certainly rode our luck a bit.”

Cullen was speaking in Dublin at the Irish launch of this season’s tournament, along with Munster captain Paul O’Connell and acting Ulster captain Paddy Wallace.

And ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath revealed that the 15th Heineken Cup final, being played at Stade de France on Saturday, 22 May will kick off at 18:00 (local time).

With 40,000 tickets already sold for the final a second limited tranche will be made available on Monday, 26 October.