La Rochelle is steeped in history, whether back to the days of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th century or indeed to the presence of the Huguenots in the 17th. A thriving but small Maritime port was never supposed to carry off the Blue Riband trophy in club rugby, although try telling that to Toulon!
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.
It may have appeared that Round 6 of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup was confirming known truths about Irish dominance and the resurgence of Toulouse as well as a brooding Saracens who look very tough and menacing at full strength.
We all thought that the International season was over but we were wrong – even hardened cynics doffed their caps to some incredible contests at the Quarter Final stage of the European Champions Cup Rugby Competition.
Why did I imagine that Ireland was not good enough for a Grand Slam – nerveless (40 plays before the miracle Sexton drop goal in Paris), clinical (Italy), and coldly predatory (Scotland and Wales), before rendering the tumultuous St Patrick’s Day clash somewhat academic after 40 remarkable minutes at Twickenham.
Wasps and Exeter played out a wonderfully competitive top of the table clash last Sunday, and if it had been another team Wasps could have scored 40. Exeter’s patient processes look less menacing now, while Wasps operate with pace and panache.
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.