Anti-climactic Heineken Cup reflects general mood

Is the season over yet? It appears to be fizzling out a little without building to a thrilling crescendo. This time last year we were all a quiver with excitement about the Lions Tour, but interest levels in rugby appear to be fairly low at the moment.

Perhaps it’s just me, but the Heineken Cup final between Toulouse and Biarritz reflected this sentiment. It promised a lot, given Toulouse’s outstanding form throughout their European campaign, but it never really got going as a spectacle, and was dominated by penalty kicks – and most of those resulted from Toulouse’s dominance in the scrum.

In the Guinness Premiership, we’ve been denied the Leicester v Northampton showdown that was looking so likely, but no doubt Saracens fans will not be as disappointed as I am. Hopefully we’ll get a spectacle that better matches the occasion – the sunshine, colour and fanfare in Paris deserved a better game than we saw, but perhaps Twickenham can light things up again.

There was a lot of rugby being played at the weekend, which should have given us something to cheer about – the Amlin Challenge Cup final was a little more exciting than the main event as Cardiff beat Toulon to give Wales its first ever European trophy, but I’d backed Toulon to win; the two Super 14 semi-finals were won by the favourites to set up an all-South African final; and the Aussies won the IRB London Sevens, and any Australian victory is always disappointing!

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m looking forward to the end of the season. The summer tours will be interesting with the addition of the midweek games, but I don’t hold much hope for England’s prospects. The gulf in class between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres has been particularly apparent to me this season, and I have a feeling it will be experienced at first hand by the home nations.

Nevertheless, despite my slightly melancholic view, I’m already excited about next season – it’s pretty much two seasons rolled into one, because of the World Cup, and I’m looking forward to starting the build up to New Zealand 2011 from September when the domestic leagues begin again.

The World Cup adds that extra level of intrigue as the backdrop to every game, in the same way that the Lions Tour was always in the mind last year. The thought of it is already lifting my spirits, and no doubt the Football World Cup this summer will remind us what a great game rugby can be.

6 thoughts on “Anti-climactic Heineken Cup reflects general mood

  1. The Toulouse vs Biarritz game was so disappointing. Was really hoping to see the classic French style of of rugby – free running in open play, flair etc etc, but what we ended up with was two sides that didn’t look as though they wanted to play any rugby at all – maybe they spent the week’s training sessions watching replays of England matches?

    Cardiff vs Toulon was a better game, with great defence work by both teams, however, yet again, when it came to “playing rugby” neither team looked as though they actually knew what they were doing when trying to run with ball in hand, and so we were given another 80mins of kicking.

    I’m actually really looking forward to the summer tour to OZ – by alls means call me insane. It think it presents us with the ideal opportunity and the last chance before the RWC 2011 to establish the players who can perform, the players that should be selected, the style of rugby that best suits us, and hopefully develop an area to “our” game which is superior to every other nation competing – I still remember a quote from Neil Back saying that we won 2003 because we had done precisely that – England 2003 had the best defence in the world. What I am afraid of though is Johnno doing 1 of 2 things things:

    1. Picking the same players the entire tour, using the “tried and tested” theory (which we have already proved is not the right selection), and concentrating too much on results as opposed to looking forward and developing the team/squad into a winning formula.

    2. Resorting to the same players after the tour, regardless of who had a good tour/lived up to expectations etc etc

    Fingers crossed for a good Premiership final to lift our mood, and a good tour to OZ afterwards to end the season on be a high.

  2. I’d love it if these summer tours enabled the England squad to develop, to identify some key players, to rule out others that are not.

    It would be great to see some of the younger players get some game time, and some valuable experience of playing in NZ.

    I have the same fears as you though, Tommy, and it’s a shame Tom Rees and Phil Dowson aren’t even going.

  3. I know. Unbelievable!!!

    Been trying to work out what my preferred team would be with the squad selection that has been made (have a lot of time on my hands at the mo, having been off work now for 5wks) and I’m seriously struggling to decide on the best team possible. I’ll be very interested to see who is selected to play against the Ba Ba’s. Think my team would be something along these lines:

    1. Cole
    2. Mears
    3. Wilson
    4. Parling
    5. Croft
    6. Robshaw
    7. Moody
    8. Ward-Smith
    9. Youngs
    10. Flood
    11. Ashton
    12. Barkley
    13. Waldouck
    14. Cueto
    15. Foden

    16. Webber
    17. Flatman
    18. Golding
    19. Attwood
    20. Lawes
    21. Simpson
    22. Wilkinson (if fit)
    23. Tait

    Now I know what everyone will say, and that is why put Croft in 2nd row. Answer, we have too many decent back rowers to choose from, but yet I feel that Croft is too valuable to leave out, so moving him into 2nd row could be a good option. Or try him at no. 8. Thoughts?

  4. I’ve considered Croft in the second row before, and am slightly torn. I like him as a player, but he does have a tendency to loiter on the wing. It’s just about tolerable when he’s in the back row, but I want to see second rows smashing into rucks, making big hits and carrying the ball directly. No.8 could be worth a try I think…he’d be more dynamic than Easter!

    I’d like to see Parling, and I think Dave Atwood deserves a chance as well. He played very well early in the season and it would be interesting to see how he gets on – give them a half each alongside Courtney Lawes?!

    Your team looks pretty good Tommy, but no doubt Johnno sees it differently, particularly in the centres – I reckon Waldouck will get 10 minutes at best!

  5. I’ve been thinking of Croft at 8 for a while, but he needs to make the decision at club level and get some experience.

    There is a huge shortage of class 8’s in England, Easter is more the best of the rest rather than an international number 8.

    Croft is lightweight for an 8 but he can go up in weight in the gym, he will never be a close quarters player, which is why I don’t like him at 6, He played so well for the lions because Geech didn’t ask him to get involved in the dirty work but play his own game.

    He is an excellent support player, he has good footballing skills and he would be one of the fastest 8’s in the world, he also provides excellent line-out ball off the back, indispensable for attacking off first phase. So if you put combative 6 and 7 next to him with 2 second rows that carry and hit rucks he could work. I would prefer to have a number 8 that is great at one or two things than Easter or Craine who are steady at everything but not great at any one thing.

    future backrow, 6-Robshaw, 7-Rees, 8-Croft. Could work Moody is still the man at 7 at the moment.

    My team:

    Cole
    Mears
    Wilson
    Shaw
    Lawes
    Robshaw
    Croft
    Moody – C
    Youngs
    FLood
    Ashton
    Barckley
    Waldock
    Cueto
    Foden

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