The euphoria of a defining Rugby World Cup was fresh in the mind and the stunning win by the Springboks was resonating across every level of society reminding us of the power of sport, let alone rugby. Suddenly we wandered into a proper crisis which has sent clubs, players and administrators into a state of conflict and questioning both themselves and the game at large.
I started to wonder where the next forward step could come from and I found it in Munster/Limerick this weekend.
When you need to re-affirm traditional values in this great game, you need to return to places where the rugby heart and soul beat loud. We were reminded pre match by the President of Munster just how their great province is enmeshed in the fabric and history of the Heineken Champions Cup. How lucky that another rugby romantic, Jacky Lorenzetti, was in town with the sky blue Parisian rugby artists, Racing 92. In a World Cup year, they have suffered like many with International commitments, but they brought their best to Thomond Park. Not sure whether Jacky’s love for rugby exceeds that of wine, but the vintages are world class either way.
Given that their pool includes Saracens who racked up their first points of the competition, a dramatic draw may not have satisfied either team but you will not see five better tries in such a high octane environment. It was a true classic and both sides were applauded off the field. The Munster crowd know their rugby and appreciated what they had seen. I also love the pin drop silence when kickers line up – class.
What else after Round 2 – Exeter have a glint in their eye, maximum points so far and a further understandable edge to their game this season. Toulouse has the World Cup hangover to deal with, but make no mistake when on form they play rugby from a different league. Thomas Castaignede the former French great and now on Toulouse Board smiles with anticipation when he talks about the revival and it feels very sustainable. No-one will underestimate Connacht in their pool however – Galwey Bay is a fortress, both Toulouse and Gloucester have to go there so just ask Montpellier!
Leinster’s sternest tests are yet to come, Northampton Saints for example home and away. They have history and I cannot wait for those two crackers pre Christmas.
Bristol catch the eye in the Challenge Cup as they have in the domestic league, I think that they mean business. So many strong sides populate the Challenge Cup these days – Leicester, Scarlets, Edinburgh, Toulon e.g – that we will be waiting until end January before any trend emerges.
The Back to Back rounds approach in December and it’s another chance for European club rugby to put a smile on our supporters faces. Marseille is a distant dream at the moment, but it is starting to come into view. 50,000 tickets sold already!!!
Lastly, another wonderful reality check on our game. I attended a Doddie Weir/Matt Hampson fundraising dinner in London last week and Sporting Wine ( www.sportingwineclub.com ) was providing the wine and auction prizes from our wonderful winemakers (Schalk Burger and Jacky Lorenzetti thank you). The outpouring of emotion was strong and heartfelt, a full 50 rugby Internationals were also on hand to show support. Then we hear the sad news of Tom Smith’s illness and already a dinner is planned for this legendary British Lion and Scotland Prop. In attendance last week were many other big names in rugby – we have a duty to our players past, present and future and none of us will forget that.