Raise a glass to the Heineken Cup

The long, and often exasperating wait is all but over. The Heineken Cup is but days away and the dawn of Europe’s finest competition is rapidly banishing the soured memories of the World Cup.

Any lingering flashbacks of endless kicking duels are soon to be cast aside, replaced instead by games crammed full of excitement and adventure, not to mention a few drops of passion for good measure. The Heineken Cup offers all this and more, and we need not wait any longer.

Sadly, for rugby fans the world over, the World Cup petered out without ever really getting going, with only a handful (at best) of games that set the pulse going. This is not a reflection on our beautiful game but rather on those entrusted with the job of winning the Webb Ellis trophy and the pressure they are under to deliver.

The days since South Africa claimed the World Cup have been filled with various discussions on how to improve the game of rugby, with the Stellenbosch law changes very much the centre of attention.

That would suggest there are serious problems within rugby union, although if you happen to take a closer look this coming weekend you will realise there is, in fact, little wrong.

So given that the pressures of winning the Heineken Cup are just as intense, the expectations just as high and the risk of failure equally prominent as at the World Cup, you may be asking the same questions as me. Why do teams, knowing what is at stake, play a higher risk brand of rugby? And more importantly, why is the Heineken Cup so much more appealing to watch?

The are no specific answers to these questions, more an understanding of what the Heineken Cup is all about, the contributing factors that make it such a magical tournament.

The most telling of these factors is just how much it means to sides. It is more than a game of rugby, it is their livelihood. Playing for your country is the pinnacle in any player’s career, of that there is no doubt. But playing for your club is a player’s bread and butter.

The real work is done here, it is the day-to-day sustenance that enables players to go on and compete for these higher honours.

All this adds up to give you groups of players, families united with a common goal, that have built bonds of loyalty and trust over the years. The faces they turn to are familiar, ones they are prepared to lay bodies on the line for safe in the knowledge they will return the favour without as much as a second thought.

And you can rest assured that those players who fell by the wayside in France will be hell-bent on restoring their fading reputations, not to mention those with scores to settle. But this will not be a tournament centred around the individual, as to win in Europe you need a collective effort.

Teams know that a bad start to the tournament and it is over before it has started. So unlike in the World Cup, were we saw numerous games that amounted to nothing more than glorified training runs, here we will see dramatic battles from the very start.

Thankfully we don’t have one-sided pools where the big guns can cruise through without so much as breaking a sweat. Here there are pools of death everywhere you look. There are still those sides deemed to have an easier draw than others, but how anyone can look at a pool containing Munster, Wasps, Clermont Auvergne and the Scarlets and not get excited might want to check for a pulse.

In Munster alone you can see everything that the Heineken epitomises. Their long and lonely quest for the holy grail since the tournament was conceived back in 1996 captures all that is good about it entering its thirteenth year. The highs and lows, the trials and tribulations charted in their history highlight every emotion there is, all induced by the same tournament.

For those who are thinking it may be good but it isn’t a patch on the Super 14, answer me this. Why are so many players in the prim

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.