So, the rugby World Cup is over and attention once again turns to club rugby, in particular this weekend sees a start to the European competitions, the Challenge Cup and the ever more popular Heineken Cup (H-Cup for beer-averse readers in France). If some of the club sides can slip off the shackles of recent international playing styles then there could be some cracking rugby played, and that’s why we’re all here really isn’t it?
Are the English and French clubs too powerful in every sense of the word? Will a Scottish team win a game, let alone progress to the group stages? Will Steven Berkoff recite some Shakespeare to get Sky viewers pumped up?
Once again Edinburgh find themselves in a pool of death. Once again with Toulouse. This year, however, they find themselves without a host of the internationals they fielded last season – moved to pastures new – a beefed up front row with Ross Ford in at hooker and a fledgling back division looking to try and find a cutting edge for Scottish rugby. Even if they pull off three wins at home (the mostly empty Murrayfield) they still face the monumental challenges of winning away at either Toulouse or Leicester’s Welford Road, and the marginally-easier-but-still-a-little-tricky Leinster, who will be looking to make amends for the Irish backs poor showing in the World Cup. Will Andy Robinson have a successful cup run? Instinct says no, but if he’s looking to blood young talent – in Blair junior he may have a standoff who can kick goals and run an attack – it may just prove beneficial to Scotland in the future.
Players to watch: David Blair, Nick De Luca, Simon “Malkovich” Webster.
Of the two, Glasgow have more of a chance if they can win all their home games and maybe sneak an away win somewhere other than Viadana. Glasgow played Saracens several times last year and came close, but the Glasgow squad is a lot stronger this year with Gibson and Fa’atau as well as a few Borders strays, and Parks seemingly on a run of confidence following some good World Cup performances and kicking Ulster to death last week. They are an outside chance to sneak out of the group if they can beat Saracens (twice?!), but I don’t know how far they can go after that.
Players to watch: Dan “Parko” Parks, Thom Evans, Darryl Gibson
Although the two Scottish pro-sides are unlikely to progress out of the group stage (though we live in hope), there may still be Scottish interest available in the later stages, so we’ll do our best to keep you updated.
This weekend (all TV matches on Sky Sports) you can see:
Sale v Montpellier 7.30pm Challenge Cup – can Rory Lamont keep up his recent try scoring run for Sale, not to mention his place in the team? Jason White returns to the team, Lamont may earn a place on the bench after coming back from an ankle knock. No sign of Scott Lawson in the team. Lots of other
Ulster v Gloucester 8pm Heineken Cup – Paterson, Lawson, Strokosch, Dickinson may feature, though Paterson seems once again resigned to fate as a goal kicker and utility back rather than the stand-off he was rumoured to be signed as. But with the mercurial Ryan Lamb in the 10 shirt he’d have his work cut out to pin that position down anyway. What might have been, Ryan. Rob Dewey and Simon Danielli may feature for Ulster.
Perpignan v Dragons (Sky Interactive) 8pm Heineken Cup – Will Chris Cusiter get a game after his start against Albi last week? Captain and fellow Scot Nathan Hines should also feature, as may World Cup winner Percy Montgomery. You’d fancy USAP to win this one.
Leinster v Leicester Tigers 1pm Heineken Cup – Big Jim Hamilton may get a run in this one, but not much Scottish interest, other than giving the bookies some idea of the points differential Edinburgh may face in the later pool stages. Could be a great game though, so watch it anyway.
Edinburgh v Toulouse 3.30pm Heineken Cup – Can Andy Robinson’s black and red army (as the SRU’s marketers like to put it) pull together the victory they have searched for under his control? They get closer to a result with each passing game, but it seems unlikely with such a young back division facing Toulouse’s class and experience. But that may make them fearless, and the best time to play the French is early on at home. Plus they all get to have a pop at Marcus Di Rollo.
Wasps v Munster 5.30pm Heineken Cup – Another potentially mouth-watering clash between two club giants. Wasps have started the premiership a little slowly, but they (almost) always turn up for European matches.
Auch v Bath 7.45pm Challenge Cup
Cardiff Blues v Bristol 1pm Heineken Cup – The strongest team so far in the Magners League, Cardiff will be looking to get a result here and they should manage it at home.
Clermont v Llanelli 1pm Heineken Cup – Scott Macleod may continue his run of fine form in a red shirt, which has till now not really been replicated for Scotland. Bruce Douglas also followed him to this region of Wales, still most likely reeling from the recent death of legend Ray Gravell.
Not on the TV but you might find them on the radio online:
Saracens vs Glasgow (Sunday 3pm, Radio Only) Heineken Cup – Glasgow need to start strong (see above). Fingers crossed!