Every week that goes by, Eddie Jones is reminded about the talent that exists in English rugby – the Premiership is on fire and many of his nearly men are displaying supreme form making us wonder what if….
Leicester on their day are now one of the best teams in the country (congrats Steve Borthwick) and they backed themselves against Montpellier in the European Challenge Cup Final this past weekend, with crowds and at the home of Rugby, Twickenham. However, the inner spirit of the unfancied Frenchmen against Bath heralded a turning point and their narrow win against a noisy backdrop of 10,000 fans was ultimately well deserved but this young Tigers team will come again.
The arrival of the two best teams in Europe, La Rochelle and Toulouse for the Heineken Champions Cup Final was eagerly anticipated. It was not the same as a sun-drenched weekend in Marseille and the pre match rain affected the conditions. The tenseness of the occasion, the La Rochelle Red card and ongoing frustrations with the stop start nature of the match left us wanting more. La Rochelle will feel that they should have won the match, but they are the latest in a long line of pretenders who have to learn the hard way what it takes to be a European Champion. Toulouse have now won this trophy once every five years on average. What a pedigree and how appropriate that they round off the first 25 years of this fabulous tournament.
For my last Finals after six years as Chairman I reflect on much but look forward with growing excitement.
European Club Rugby has just agreed a deal until 2030, all 3 leagues united and the Six Unions signed up. An outbreak of Collaboration and shared interests embraced by all. It will build now because there is no reason not. There is also potential for South African and other Southern Hemisphere club teams to test themselves against the best in Europe – and do not forget Japan, Fiji and the US.
Care for the players. Their voices rightly grow louder and we must/will manage their schedules so that they can perform at their peak and look positively to their post rugby career, helped by the ever growing if belated focus to on field safety.
We have to look after Community rugby, the lifeblood of the sport and the supporter base. We are nothing without our fans, and enjoyment is the key for amateurs who are 99% of the game. Please come back after more than a year away and with the siren voices of other activities growing louder we cannot be complacent but work to get our clubs vibrant again.
We get all this right and we will inspire the Children upon whom we rely for the future of this amazing sport in all its formats, 198 years after William Webb Ellis picked up that ball. They have to love the game they see and play, and Internationals as well as club players must realise their responsibilities in that regard. Take a bow, Premiership Rugby.
So back to the Clubs, where it all starts as it did for me and set me on the road to International Rugby. More importantly, the club is where you nurture your dream, share adversity with your mates, celebrate with your family and bond with the fans.
It has been an unbelievable privilege to travel around Europe for 6 years experiencing different club environments and meeting people who care so much, indulging in their passion, the ecstasy and the pain of winning or losing but always loving the game.
I have a dream that with this new agreement, the game will never look back again.
Collaboration, Care, Community, Children, Clubs.