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.
The Double-Header weekends of the Heineken Champions Cup have been one of the season’s highlights so far. The last 16 format created supreme drama and stunning quality between Europe’s top clubs. These formats and dates have been moved around partly through Covid driven necessity and partly in a constant search to improve the competition. I know that personally, having spent many months at that particular negotiating table. You cannot stand still, and with both the domestic leagues and International tournaments rightly seeking to generate more relevance and interest, the world’s premier club competition is doing the same- and to great effect.
As the denouement of the Six Nations, Heineken Champions Cup, Challenge Cup and domestic leagues have played out over the last few weeks, it was tempting to look off-field as well as on-field for all the rugby stories.
It’s World Cup Year (almost), and rugby seemingly makes headlines on a daily basis. Journos are back to their editors with begging bowls for more space – they will get it too.
I made a late decision to go to West Wales for the Scarlets Toulon match at the weekend because I had a feeling about it and also to support the stunning impact that Scarlets have had on the competition.
As the Autumn Internationals played out, followed by two tumultuous European weekends, there has been much to admire as well as ponder as we approach a seasonal period of rest and reflection – unless you are a professional rugby player who isn’t banned or injured in which case not much of either.
The season to date has been a revelation in some ways. Players are running out of contact and into space with short intensive bursts of passing. The All Blacks have shown the way – again – and have lit a touch paper. Take a look at Lyon of the Top 14 and Newcastle in their opening matches.