It was my first weekend of European rugby and Leicester had just beaten Stade Francais in the opening match of the 2015 Champions Cup. As I commiserated with Thomas Savare, the SF President, our phones started to go crazy with the news of the Paris killings. A number of the EPCR team were trapped in their hotel and the whole of Paris was in lockdown. That terrible tragedy will never be forgotten and rugby played its part in paying tribute.
Imagine my disbelief when en route to Exeter Chiefs during this season’s opening weekend to be told that Anthony (Axel) Foley, the Munster Head Coach and former playing legend, had suddenly passed away in Paris before the Munster Racing 92 match.
The following week, Munster put on an emotional show of support for their coach and family, and then on the field versus the warriors of Glasgow. In a throwback to glory years, they swept their opponents away in a decisive performance and laid down a defiant marker. To show that this was not a one off they also squeezed past Ulster in the Pro 12 away from home, no mean feat. The Irish fires are burning and with Connacht top of their pool there are reasons for optimism.
Elsewhere, Europe stood back in respect but you could not help noticing Clermont’s near fifty point hammering of Bordeaux-Begles after their dismantling of Exeter. They mean business this year, as there aren’t many of the top teams showing consistent form so far this season, partly – and disappointingly – because of a lack of ambition and a little too much coaching. There are plenty of flair players around, let them express themselves! One team I applaud is Leicester who are really giving it a go, suffering at times for it but they deserve to succeed, and however long it takes it is the way to the top.
Saracens march on
I continue my theme that the Saracens have hit another level of performance, untouchable so far at home and in Europe. Despite a mounting injury list, they are destroying top teams with ease in the first 60 minutes and the biggest criticism is that they let sides play in the last 20! Nice problem to have. With an England hat on, Farrell has improved so much that he is now in my opinion the most complete no 10 in Europe and is surrounded by the core of the England team who also happen to be Saracens. He will stay as England no 12 for the moment due to lack of other candidates and because George Ford has the 10 jersey but I am loving his new found ambitious play and soon he will be there as the best. That’s some compliment.
Player Welfare watch
Worcester have an entire first team injured, and England have managed to accumulate at least a dozen injured frontline players. It’s already a tough season and it’s only October.