Less than two months after the French Top 14 final, another season is underway in the 'Hexagon' and the 2015-16 finalists were among the early casualties.
Champions Racing-Metro were defeated 15-9 at Bordeaux-Begles, who had Luke Braid and Hugh Chalmers in their loose forward mix. Dan Carter kicked three penalty goals from first five for the Parisians, while his fellow teammates included wing Joe Rokocoko, prop Ben Tameifuna and centre Casey Laulala.
Runners-up Toulon, with Ma' Nonu at No 12, were upset 28-23 at newly promoted Bayonne, whose players of New Zealand origin were lock Tom Donnelly and former North Harbour and Manu Samoa hooker Manu Leiataua.
Paul Perez and Joe Tekori were in the mix for Toulouse in their 20-12 win over Montpellier, for whom first five Ben Botica, newly signed from UK club Harlequins, slotted four penalty goals.
Second five Paul Williams scored a try as Stade Francais opened up with 54-20 hiding of Grenoble. Chiefs and Hawke's Bay favourite, prop Sona Taumalolo, copped a yellow card for the latter.
Former Wellington and Hurricanes prop Eric Sione scored a try for Castres in their 28-11 victory over Pau. No 10 Colin Slade kicked two goals for the latter, while Conrad Smith and Chris King also featured.
There were two draws in a topsy-turvy opening round. Lyon, who fielded Rudi Wulf and Toby Arnold on the wings, drew 15-all with Brive, while La Rochelle made a stirring comeback to draw 30-all with Clermont. The home team had Jason Eaton and Uini Atonio in the pack, though not yet Victor Vito. Benson Stanley and Fritz Lee were in the Clermont 23.
Both the Aviva Premiership and Guinness PRO12 kick off on September 2, with several New Zealanders in action in those two top competitions.