The Highs and Lows Of The Heineken Champions Cup So Far
Twenty have become eight, as the group stage concluded in the Heineken Champions Cup. The remaining sides – two Irish, three French and three English – will return to action in the quarter-finals, once the small matter of the Guinness Six Nations is taken care of. But it’s already fair to say that we’ve got plenty of bang for our buck already!
It’s been a rollercoaster ride thus far, and with the pools done and dusted, we reckoned it was a good time to take a look at the highlights (and lowlights) of the tournament thus far. So before pulling on the green jersey and getting into international mode – there’s less than two weeks until it all kicks off on Virgin Media One, Virgin TV 103! – let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane…
IN THE CLUB
After the fireworks of the World Cup, it wasn’t unreasonable to wonder whether the hangover would affect Europe’s biggest club competition. The answer, it turns out, was a resounding ‘no’ – in fact, six weekends of outstanding action have served to underline the fact that club rugby is never anything short of electric! With all manner of suggestions on how the tournament should look moving forward, you’d hope the powers-that-be realise that they’ve got something special as is – now roll on April!
BIG GUNS FIRE
Toulouse, Racing and Clermont Auvergne; Exeter and Northampton; and, of course, our own sides; like a big budget Hollywood blockbuster, the names at the top of the bill have most definitely delivered! As fond as we are of underdogs and giant-slayings, the concluding rounds of the tournament are a stage for the stars, and things are set up for some shining showings. There’s one team we haven’t mentioned yet, though, and we’ll get to them later…
THE LUCK OF THE IRISH
A good year for Irish hopefuls? Depends what bit of Ireland you’re from, really! Let’s start with the positives, though; Leinster’s imperious form saw them ease into the knockout stages as the number one seed, while Ulster will join them after an excellent campaign which saw them suffer just one loss. Saracens and Toulouse await in the quarters – some reward, says you! – but there’s already plenty to smile about; following a autumn of discontent, winter hasn’t been so bad!
THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, PT. 2
Well, we did say it was a mixed bag! For Connacht, it was a tough reminder of the true level of top-class continental competition, rooted to the foot of Pool 5, but it’s Munster who’ll be licking their wounds more than any other Irish side. A familiar story for the men in red was valiant efforts and proud performances that came up short against two of the best teams around; it had Group of Death written all over it from the day of the draw, and it proved to be Johann van Graan’s men who would perish.
OK, we’re not actually sure how sorry they are – but they should be! The most dominant team in recent history are to be relegated from their domestic league for breaching financial rules, and while the same standards don’t apply in the Heineken Champions Cup, it’s left a rather sour taste in everyone’s mouth. A squad assembled illegally will have an opportunity to add to their haul of three European crowns; don’t be surprised if the whole of Europe is behind Leinster when they face off in April!
Your sporting fix is sorted with Virgin Media Sport; find out more right here…