WITH the Heineken Cup returning this weekend, battle lines are being drawn right across Europe.
The only question is whether it will be more fierce out on the pitch or in the boardroom.
English and French clubs have served notice to withdraw from the two European competitions at the end of this season.
Despite that, tournament bosses have optimistically announced that next season's Heineken Cup final will take place at Milan's San Siro stadium.
But the future of the competition is hanging in the balance, with the Anglo-French alliance having drawn up plans for the Rugby Champions Cup from next term.
They are proposing a new two-tier tournament, with 20 teams in each as opposed to 24 and 20 at the moment, with places earned through qualification from the main leagues in Europe, as well as the previous season's European cups.
The sides in the RaboDirect Pro12 have been invited to join in, with more details expected to be announced this month.
It is not the first time English clubs have shown their disdain for the European competition. None took part in the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1995/96, when 12 clubs from France, Ireland, Wales, Italy and Romania battled it out before Toulouse emerged as the winners.
Sides from Scotland and England joined the following year, but again no English teams took part in the 1998/99 campaign.
While there is clearly money to be made from the new competition, with BT Sport waiting in the wings to snap up the broadcasting rights, it is difficult to argue with the logic about the qualification process.
English and French clubs face a fight week in, week out in their domestic leagues, with the teams that finish in the top half going through to the top-tier European competition the following campaign.
That is not quite the case with their Celtic and Italian cousins, with the common complaint that clubs target the Heineken Cup matches and ease their star players in to peak form for those games.
Rob Baxter spoke about that this week ahead of the Chiefs' clash with Cardiff Blues, who have brought their main players back gradually over recent weeks to get them firing for Sunday's game at Sandy Park.
By changing the structure so that the top six teams from the RaboDirect league qualify for the top tier European competition – as opposed to 10 of the 12, with both Scottish and Italian clubs guaranteed their place – it should also strengthen that division.
If the best Irish, Welsh and Scottish sides have to fight tooth and nail to be able to play with the rest of the big boys on the continental stage, the level of competition is bound to increase, with interest growing as a result.
Self preservation could get in the way, but money talks and there is bound to be a top-level cross-border competition to look forward to next season. Just what form it will take remains to be seen.
As for Exeter's prospects this season, they should at least be competitive in Pool Two.
Toulon are heavier favourites to win the group than any side in any other pool, but there is no reason why the Chiefs cannot challenge Cardiff and RaboDirect Pro12 leaders Glasgow for the runners-up spot.
That may not be enough to see them progress in Europe, but would at least mean there is something to play for – and some interest – in their final two matches after they have faced the might of the reigning champions from the south of France.
You can't ask for more than that in just their second season mixing it with the big boys of Europe.
But with an eye on next season's competition, will someone behind the scenes please come up with an original name of a competition for a change and not just copy football.