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European Rugby – “Not” The Heineken Cup

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“Four tries at the very least, and a 27 point margin to boot. No team could surely ever pull it off. Watch now, as Ronan O’Gara lines up the most important kick of his Munster career…”

Ok so, except that there’s one less pool (and four less teams as a result), let’s face it, this is the Heineken Cup. To Irish rugby fans in particular, the Heineken Cup even in name alone meant a lot more than just sponsorship. It’s a heritage, a legacy. It’s the reason we all looked forward to October. And the greatest Irish successes, be it winning finals or overcoming huge opponents in knockouts, all came at the peak of the competition’s popularity both with the public and financially. Is it any wonder there were calls for change from outside the country?

“With a try-less but nonetheless convincing win, playing on home soil Ulster have overcome Colomiers to become the first Irish team to win the Heineken Cup…”

We’ve been at it for decades, punching above our weight. In fact, taking the rugby population of all respective nations into account, the only countries not doing so really are England, France and New Zealand. It’s one of the great things about the sport, even the most irrelevant matches can be made relevant in hindsight. So with all this talk of the new format European Cup working against the Celtic nations, what of it? Sure, on paper it is against us all in terms of scheduling and of course this new TV split means potentially less viewers in countries like Ireland where having both BT and Sky can cost a small fortune. But as a whole, teams having the biting desire to make an early impact on a new format competition is no bad thing whatsoever. Yes, it is a little bit of a sickener that Connacht have been bumped back to the second tier, especially considering they’re neck and neck with Ulster as the Irish team to watch this season. But in all, we may as well just pretend this is the Heineken Cup as normal and retain the ferocious interest we as a nation have always had in it.

“Leinster, down by 16 points at the break, are now two points shy of Northampton as Jonathan Sexton lines up a penalty that could give them the lead, completely against the run of the first half. He has connected well and…”

Let’s not forget too that all the kerfuffle behind the scenes and disputes over contracts and TV deals for the most part omitted Ireland and the other Celts from the drama, Wales stepping into the ring for a little while then backing away. This is England and France’s row, let them have it. It’s like showing up to school and two teachers are disagreeing on whether the class should be reading Shakespeare or Eliot. Either way, you’re going to learn and both will be equally beneficial even though at the time they may seem like two different worlds. Connacht, Ulster, Leinster and Munster will show up this weekend at their respective fixtures and do the job that must be done. They will be no less invested due to a name change and a slight stirring up of the team numbers and layout. The fans are the important ones to convince.

“Who doesn’t love a good underdog tale? As they do so brilliantly, Connacht are about to throw up a great big Heineken Cup upset in this all but festive winter clash. Toulouse are spent, can’t find a way through and…that’s all she wrote!”

Yes, it’s hard to keep track of exactly how this competition is working from a fan and viewership point of view. The last minute confirmations of dates and times are just ridiculous. But you still have the same teams to support, the same venues to do so in. The TV stations may change for those who can’t attend, but the heart and soul remains the same. This may not be the Heineken Cup, even if it is a European Rugby tournament sponsored principally by Heineken, but it’s still as plump for the taking as any European Cup ever were and will be for Irish rugby. Be the difference, let your voice be heard. We’re dealing the hand that’s dealt, and hoping lady luck has stuck around.

The European Rugby Champions Cup kicks off this weekend, Irish provincial fixtures listed below:

Saturday October 18th

Munster V Sale (1pm) Sky Sports 2

Connacht V La Rochelle (5pm)

Ulster V Leicester (7.45pm) BT Sport 2

Sunday October 19th

Leinster V Wasps (5.15pm) BT Sport 2

Image courtesy of breakingnews.ie

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