Rob Douglas lifts the mood, previewing some of the action coming up, and you can follow it all here on The Rugby Blog.
The Aftermath: Has anyone else got a hollow, empty feeling inside them at the moment, almost like a distant family member has passed away? Am I the only one who feels that life has just got a little more dreary, less focused and slightly jaded? Work seems less fulfilling than ever, it seems there’s nothing much to do or talk about and there’s nothing to look forward to over the dark winter months. Oh, and the clocks are being put back: mega.
Blog to the rescue: But no, there is hope. Rugby fans, pick up your pint glasses, they are indeed half full. Now that the burden of being world champions is behind us, our players can go back to expressing their talents unhindered and light up the domestic season, now alongside many mercenary Southern Hemisphere cousins.
Upcoming highlights: Fear not, the tonic to sooth post-world cup depression comes in many guises. Jonny Hobbs has been keeping us up to date with the comparative trivialities of the Premiership (go on the Quins, cracking start), and there is now a 3-week sabbatical before the resumption of that competition as cup rugby takes centre stage again.
The EDF Energy Cup kicks off today, giving English clubs the chance to add further misery to Wales’s world cup blues. Wasps have made a diabolical start to the season, but as the club with the most amount of players absent on world cup duties, contributing to four national sides, they should see an upsurge in form following their return. They will need to, because the favourites for pool A in this cup will be their old rivals Gloucester, who in contrast have been impressive at the start of the season, with a wealth of new talent from the summer signings boosting an already strong squad.
There will be no love lost in Pool B as Bath, Leicester and Sale go head to head. The Mighty Quins will undoubtedly dominate Pool C, though the Ospreys may prove a tough test, and Llanelli are likely to be the pick from the relatively weak Pool D.
The Heineken Cup picks up where the EDF Energy leaves off in a fortnight’s time. After all the shenanigans and political wrangling surrounding this outstanding competition in the summer it is now back on track, better than ever and guaranteed to provide some fireworks. International players have a chance to make up for disappointing world cups (they know who they are), capitalise on success (swing low) and re-live bitter rivalries in what is considered to be the closest thing to Test match conditions away from the national sides. Ulster begin proceedings at Ravenhill against Gloucester on Friday 9 November, while at the same time the Dragons travel to the Perpignan hotbed for a stern away test.
Pool 6 is probably the pick of the groups, featuring Edinburgh, Leicester, Leinster and Toulouse, but Pool 5 won’t be far behind for competitiveness and Wasps will not surrender their crown easily. The 13th Heineken Cup final returns to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on the weekend of 24 / 25 May 2008: the smart money’s on Quins.
Internationals aren’t too far away either so the rugby fiesta didn’t by any means stop in Paris last weekend. Twickers welcomes newly crowned world champs on 1st December to face the Baa-baas in what is supposed to be Jason Robinson’s swansong, so here’s wishing the big guy a speedy recovery.
Furthermore, we only have to wait till the first weekend in February for the resumption of 6 Nations hostilities. First up sees Ireland and Italy attempt to get back on track at Croke Park after their world cup debacles, followed immediately by England-Wales at HQ. It’s a shorter wait than being an Argentine rugby fan in any case – they need to be included in the Tri-Nations, I don’t care what anyone says!
So basically, lets all drag our chins off the floor, re-locate our club colours and empty wallets and get back to doing what we know best. Finally, a brief tribute to Stuart Abbot, who was forced into early retirement this week due to an ongoing shoulder injury, at the age of only 29. South African-born, he has been a stalwart of the English club game for a number of years, mainly at Wasps and latterly at the Mighty Quins. A player who never seemed to realise his full potential and had persistent bad luck with injuries, he was nevertheless a world cup winner in 2003 and has numerous domestic honours to his credit. You’ll be missed Stuart, and Quins’ success this year is already dedicated to your fine self.