Toulon have resources to test the best
FROM THE BLINDSIDE: The progressive French club have had a couple of seasons to get used to the Heineken Cup and it looks like they’re going to really target it this year
THE START of the Heineken Cup feels a bit different this year. No matter how much you just want to concentrate on the rugby and look forward to the matches, you can’t ignore all the meetings and negotiations that are going on behind the scenes about the competition’s future. There were talks in Rome on Monday and there’ll be more in Dublin in a few weeks. The whole situation is just a little bit nervy at the minute.
It’s a shame because the one thing we should be doing at this time of year is checking out the fixtures and the pools and pinpointing the must-win games for all the contenders. But instead, we’re sitting here wondering what the Heineken Cup will look like in a couple of years or, in the worst-case scenario, if it will still exist at all.
That’s a pretty shameful move on the part of the English clubs, it has to be said. Whatever their gripes – and they’re not all wrong, it must be acknowledged – they still should have a bit more class than to threaten such a brilliant competition.
The financial ins and outs of it have been done to death at this stage so there’s nothing to be gained from me spelling them out here. For me, this comes down to the simple fact that the English clubs have always felt they were better than the tournament.
And that’s not always a bad thing, by the way. Many a great victory over the years has been built on the back of underdogs going out to bring an English team down a peg or two. It gave those games an extra bit of oomph and it definitely gave Irish teams something to aim at in the early years.
What has been interesting to watch, though, is the way they’ve changed their tune over the years when they talk about the effect on them of playing in the Premiership. In the early days, they were always going on about how the level of competition over there was what had them battle-hardened when they went into Europe.
I remember it was all we had to listen to after Northampton beat Munster in the final in 2000. We hadn’t had a game for a fortnight before that final whereas Northampton came in having played Saracens the week before.
Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio were always very outspoken about how playing week-in and week-out suited their players and made them better and how it was a big factor in them winning all those Heineken Cups. But if it was true then, how come it’s not true now?