When people whinge and moan and cry like a baby and throw their toys out the pram several times over looking for change, and then go on to finally get that change exactly when they want it, you’d think they would do everything they could to ensure everyone knew the change was worth it.
It took them almost three weeks to go from “almost” announcing the new Euro Cup and when they finally do, the announcement is only half a loaf.
Sure, the official rugby media sources across the water will tow the line like the loyal servants they have been throughout this farce of a saga and tell us how everything is smelling of roses, but it’s not so much that the devil is in the detail, it’s more like that there is no detail.
How long has thing been dragging on for now? And the continent’s elite competition still has no sponsor? And the vaunted 3rd tier comp barely has a name let alone any structure?
And nothing has been said about the precedent set by all of this. Sure, Sky & BT have come to an arrangement now, and that’s just wonderful for them, if not for the fans who now have to shell out for two subscriptions if they want to watch a comp that has even fewer matches than before.
But what’s to stop another TV giant muscling in to the market down the line? Sure, the new arrangement “guarantees” European rugby for the next 6-8 years, but we all know now that everyone’s heads can be turned with a big enough wave of a chequebook so anything is possible.
Well, this puts the English clubs in an interesting situation. If one of them wins the new competition next season, it will be on the back of one of the most nauseating and childish PR campaigns I have ever seen in any sport. If they don’t, they will be a laughing stock to fans from the other nations, particularly the Celtic ones - well, ok, particularly the Irish one.
People asked me last night what has changed. Well from the way this has been presented so far, it amounts to just two words.
Time to look ahead to this weekend’s action.
All times are Irish
Friday, April 11
Ulster v Connacht, 7:05pm
Could the Ulstermen’s week possibly get worse? Eh - yes it definitely can, because I doubt Connacht will ever feel they have a better chance of success at Ravenhill.
Pat Lam’s men are on a superb run of form which simply isn’t getting enough recognition in the main stream media. And although 7 points may be a gap to wide to catch the Scarlets for the final Euro spot in just 4 matches, it is definitely worth going for.
But even without the huge presence of names like Pienaar, Best & Payne, the Ulstermen should have enough in key areas like the back row to get the job done tonight, and with the two sides either side of them on the table playing each other, the win will be timely.
I’ll have particular interest in the performance of Tommy Bowe at 13 tonight. A quality player who normally wears the green jumper in a position where we are stacked with talent, this is an opportunity for him to show his credentials at outside centre.
As they showed in Llanelli recently you can never rule out the Westerners but I can’t see beyond a home win. Ulster by 8
Ospreys v Leinster, 7:05pm
Never mind the rivalry between these two, never mind the top four implications, never mind their respective Heineken disappointments.
Ryan Jones, Alun-Wyn Jones, Leo Cullen & Mike McCarthy. What a second row battle this promises to be. If ref Marcus Mitrea sees a fraction of what’s going on he’ll be doing well.
Once again Jimmy Gopperth gets the 10 jumper and we can only guess as to why Ian Madigan’s name isn’t on the team sheet at all, since Fergus McFadden was the only reported casualty from Toulon.
Another interesting outside centre call for an Irish province as Gordon D’Arcy moves over to partner Noel Reid at 12 - with Zane Kirchener on the wing and Isaac Boss at 9 this is very much an experimental backline for Matt O’Connor and they will need to gel quickly.
For the Ospreys they have many of their usual dangermen with poacher Justin Tipuric at 7, ball carrier Joe Bearman at 6 and handy finisher Aisea Natogo on the wing. Plus there is Adam Jones on the bench who will clearly be waiting for either Cian Healy to tire or Michael Bent to be introduced.
Unless Leinster have found a way to clear the cobwebs from last Sunday (not to mention handle yet another 5-day turnaround) and can hit the ground running in this fixture, I think it could be a long night for us. Ospreys by 7
Edinburgh v Cardiff Blues, 7:45pm
Very close to a dead rubber this one, though since Embra have a game in hand on the Scarlets they will (or at least should) see themselves in with a shout of a Euro spot. As for the Blues, you can only assume they will be playing to catch Warren Gatland’s eye with a view to the June trip to South Africa, assuming that he’ll be even watching! Edinburgh by 9
Ulster Bank League - Division 1A
Lansdowne v Clontarf, 7:30pm
They may not retain their title but Lansdowne will still have a big say in the destiny of this year’s. Tarf will need every point they can from this fixture as they just lead by one from Belvo who’s final two matches are against teams from the bottom of the table. I won’t offer a prediction but this could be a close one. As always check out KnockOn.ie for full grassroots coverage.
Sale Sharks v Harlequins, 7:45pm
Clérmont v Castres, 7:45pm
Reds v Brumbies, 10:40am
Saturday, April 12
Benetton Treviso v NG Dragons, 6pm
Treviso’s 4-point lead over Zebre should be small enough to have them looking over their shoulders, plus a win over the Dragons will give them a shot at catching them and avoid the two Italian teams taking up the bottom two positions, surely something of an embarrassment to the FIR in this their 4th season in the league. Could be an interesting tussle this, with both teams virtually full strength, and I’m shading it to the home side. Treviso by 4
Scarlets v Zebre, 6:30pm
No need for in depth analysis looking at this one…if the Scarlets are worthy of a place in this amazing new elite European competition, then this match should be over by halftime. Scarlets by 20
Munster v Glasgow Warriors, 6:30pm
Tie of the round even before Ospreys v Leinster kicked off.
Glasgow couldn’t possibly have more reasons to be pumped for an away match…a win puts them within touching distance of a home semi as they have a home game in hand, Munster could possibly be hung over from their Toulouse demolition last week and surely must have half an eye on their next French assignment.
The key for the Warriors has been their defence. A mere 30 tries scored in 17 matches yet 13 wins means they can be stingy and for Munster to prevail it will be on them to unlock them early.
Number 10 duties fall to JJ Hanrahan; I wonder if a good display from him will put him in contention for Toulon. Keith Earls moves to 13 to replace the injured Laulala so much like Leinster they will need their new-look backline to gel quickly.
This promises to be a tight one throughout, and when things are tight at Thomond Park, you can never bet against the home side. Munster by 5
Ulster Bank League Div 1A
With Tarf losing last night this is a big chance for Belvo to put one hand on the title with a win over lowly Dolphin this afternoon. Yet another successful year for Dublin clubs in the AIL…later this morning I’ll be re-posting a blog I did a good while ago with suggested changes.
Ballynahinch v UCD, 2:30pm
Old Belvedere v Dolphin, 2:30pm
St Mary’s v Garryowen, 2:30pm
Young Munster v Cork Con, 2:30pm
Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs, 3pm
Leicester Tigers v London Wasps, 3pm
Gloucester v Bath, 3:15pm
Bordeaux v Toulon, 2pm
Grenoble v Montpellier, 5:30pm
Racing Métro v Biarritz, 5:30pm
Bayonne v Stade Francais, 5:30pm
Perpignan v Oyonnax, 5:30pm
Toulouse v Brive, 7:35pm
Force v Waratahs, 10:40am
Cheetahs v Crusaders, 4:05pm
Lions v Sharks, 6:10pm
Sunday, April 13
Saracens v Northampton Saints, 2pm
London Irish v Newcastle Falcons, 3pm
Be sure and enjoy your rugby this weekend wherever you are. JLP