Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HCup Week 1 - lessons learned

What have we learned about the Heineken Cup’s future after the first weekend? asks Sarah Mulkerrins…

Sarah Mulkerrins

On Friday night, Connacht put it up to Premiership leaders Saracens at the Sportsground. Level at 17 points a piece, it was the boot of Owen Farrell that eventually secured the win for Sarries. Everyone was proud of Connacht and their performance – but in comparison to previous outings in the competition, people were more disappointed not to have got the win. That’s how far the club and supporters have come in recent years. We believe we can compete. We don’t believe we are there to make up the numbers, regardless of how we may have qualified for the competition.

You only have to look at what Edinburgh and Scarlets did on Saturday to see the magic of The Heineken Cup. Bottom of the Pro12, Edinburgh produced form they’ve yet to find in the league to beat Munster 29-23, who sit second. Scarlets then caused the normally unflappable Conor O’Shea to fume at Harlequins terrible display, losing 26-33 at the Stoop. I don’t think many would have predicted those results.

You see, the Heineken Cup forces every team and player to raise their game. So while Edinburgh play against Munster in the Pro12, it’s a different level in the Heineken Cup. It’s good for players to get experience when the intensity is that much higher, when the play is that much more ferocious, and there is more on the line. And it’s true too for developing players for the National sides. Look at Scott Williams, his performance for the Scarlets impressed so much that there are calls for him to start in the Wales team for the Autumn Internationals. While he’s been capped twenty times for Wales, only five of those have been starts. This 20 year old has made headlines and gained experience from this competition.

The hope for Scarlets, Edinburgh and indeed Connacht, is that their positive performances in the Cup will lend itself to improved displays in their bread and butter competition, the league. While they may not get to the quarter-finals or further, there can be a lot for these club teams to take from one great display in the Cup. And you never know, the beauty of sport is that you can overcome the odds, go on a cup run, ruffle a few feathers, perhaps win, but most importantly learn along the way.

For me, as a fan, the biggest thing from the whole weekend was the belief that this will be sorted. The range of former players and coaches saying that there had to be a place for a European club competition was broad, and included many British and French pundits. Any Celtic pundits that were questioned sounded reasonable and open to negotiations on the format. The collective viewpoint seemed to be that no one saw a sustainable future a French/British competition.

So can someone please knock some heads together soon. There’s too much at stake to risk losing what’s arguably the best club rugby competition in the world. 

Sarah Mulkerrins : I’m a freelance sports reporter from the west of Ireland and have spent the last 9 years working in the broadcast industry. I’ve worked in the UK and Ireland covering a wide range of sport mostly for the BBC and Setanta Sports. If I had to pick a favourite sport, it would be a toss up between Rugby and Athletics. But there’s room in my life for all sports and I can’t really think of one I don’t like. The blog is my take on the sports stories making the headlines. I try to personalise them and take an alternative angle on them. Do comment and interact, it’s here for everyone to debate on the trending stories.


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019