European Rugby Scales The Heights
I feel compelled to reflect on last weekend’s European action simply because the quality of what was on offer reached a new record in my view and also there were some conclusions reached I feel are premature. I know I am biased but the adage of the European Cup being like International rugby played in club jerseys was never truer.
Look no further than the Aviva stadium and the Munster heartbreak against Toulouse who had ten of the Grand Slam squad in their ranks. I would have loved to be there as the atmosphere looked incredible and epitomised how this competition is without peer. When leading by ten points they needed a power play to finish the job and didn’t quite have it. The quality of that last Toulouse try must rank as the best of the season – until I saw Henry Arundell down at Toulon which reminded me of the John Kirwan effort for the All Blacks against Italy in the World Cup all those years ago. Do England have the talent? You bet. As for Munster there is no club which epitomises the values of rugby more and while the heart bled for them they will come back stronger, I know them at firsthand and I am sure of that.
Meantime Leinster were fresh and ready and their first 30 minutes against Leicester Tigers proved to be enough. I disagree that it shows an unbridgeable gulf, simply that Leinster are a few years ahead of the Tigers and have some depth which lest we forget is homegrown and built on firm foundations. However, I love the Genge attitude post match who just wanted to win and anything else is an excuse. His leadership is shining bright, some real honesty in interviews instead of the usual rubbish from too much media training- Bristol and England will benefit.
Sale Sharks were the architects of their own demise I thought in Paris. Racing 92 are vulnerable but wow can they play when given a chance and their youngsters were as talented as the established stars like Russell and Thomas. Sanderson is right that the salary Cap reductions in England will create some issues but they themselves are also learning how to play in these pressure cooker environments,
Meantime the drama in Edinburgh where Wasps grabbed a last-minute win , and the intensity of the contests in Lyon and Toulon has elevated the meaning of the Challenge Cup into the stratosphere. The competitiveness of the leagues in France and England mean that for the likes of Toulon, Wasps and Lyon a win could be the passport to the Champions Cup. Who will bet against Saracens being in Sunny Marseille for the end of the month though, the scent of European finals day is in their nostrils and they are peaking nicely.
As for the coming weekend, Leinster in their own backyard are surely a touch too strong for Toulouse, while Racing 92 and La Rochelle could go either way. No idea about the Challenge Cup Semis, only to know that Marseille Finals weekend will be a riot of colour, noise, rugby brilliance and sunshine. A supporter’s dream and a further statement for this amazing tournament.
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