Those who know the history of #rugbyunited, and indeed my friendship with Trevor, can trace back to an open letter i wrote to the IRB in my very first blog so its great that someone else has sent me a blog/open letter to post on here for you.
The Heineken cup situation is a mess, as is the state of the relationship between the WRU and the Welsh regions with money seeming to take precdence over what the fans want in both cases. Adam McKendry has written this about what the Heineken cup means to us as fans and appeals for an apprpriate solution to be found!
Adam has written blogs for us in the past, so we again thank him and welcome him back! you can follow him on twitter @AdMckendry. (feel free to tweet this blog to anyone in relevance to the HC fiasco and indeed @BrettGosper from the IRB! (always good to harrass him!)
Over to Adam!
WHY THE HEINEKEN CUP MUST BE SAVED
Dear heads of rugby,
Put aside all the financial difficulties. Put aside all the TV broadcast bickering. Put aside relegation rows. Just focus on the rugby.
Last weekend’s final round of pool games in the Heineken Cup proved to every single northern hemisphere rugby fan that it is indeed the greatest rugby competition in the world. The tries flowed, the calculators were out, the nails were chewed down, and twenty-four was narrowed down to eight survivors.
And some eight survivors they are too, with six former champions among their ranks. For all the snipes and claims of the PRL that the Heineken Cup is unrepresentative due to the Pro12 sides not having to worry about relegation, it seems rather fitting that the eight knockout qualifiers are all within the top thirteen in the ERC rankings, leading many to claim that this season’s quarter-finals will be the closest they have been for years. Based on the evidence it’s hard to argue, with some mouth-watering clashes.
I myself attended two games over the weekend, the Northampton-Castres game on Friday night and then Leicester-Ulster on Saturday, the former being an exciting way to spend the night when I wasn’t planning to do anything anyway. I was not disappointed by either game suffice to say, and I left England on Sunday evening feeling extremely happy with the way I had spent my weekend.
For a game that was effectively a dead-rubber match at Franklin’s Gardens on Friday night, I found myself pleasantly surprised to see how passionate the Saints fans were at cheering their side on to a win. As one fan next to me put it, “The Heineken Cup brings out the best in us, you know?” before wishing me all the best for the following evening. Although the game itself was a bit of a dour affair, it was played with great intensity with several massive hits, and I headed up the M1 in good spirits.
But it was on Saturday when the Heineken Cup really came to life. You can forgive Connacht for their horrendous performance at the Allianz Park – the expectation placed on them was incredibly high after that win in Toulouse, and in the end they stood little to no chance of leaving London (or its surrounding area anyway) with even a losing bonus point. But the way in which Saracens took them apart was majestic. From the silky running of Alex Goode from full-back to the strong running of man-of-the-match Billy Vunipola, they tore the Irish side apart with relative ease. Whatever the Heineken Cup is apparently lacking, it’s not excitement.
And then the marquee match on Saturday night between Leicester and Ulster, and boy it did not disappoint. With so much riding on the game, it threatened to be a game where both sides retreated into their shells and played out a boring kick-fest of a game. However, the two teams came out fighting, and although they boasted superior defences to attacks, the game was perched precariously on a knife edge for the whole eighty minutes, and in the end the pool was done justice as just one score won it in the end.
And rather fittingly, it was the marquee player that got that score. Big games call for big players, so step up Ruan Pienaar, who landed three penalties from inside his own half to win the game for Ulster and set up their first home quarter-final since 1999. It’s also rather fitting that it was a foreign marquee player who scored the points too, as it highlights another reason why, in my opinion, the Heineken Cup should stay. A lot of Southern Hemisphere players make the journey north to play in the big games – the Pro12 and Premiership alone are not enough to coax these big name stars to Europe, there has to be a European Cup to entice them there.
I also want to draw on the example of Munster as well, as their spirit and belief is what epitomises the Heineken Cup. After Toulouse rather remarkably only managed to score one try at Zebre, the men from Limerick knew that a bonus point win over Edinburgh would have them back at Thomond Park in the quarter-finals. So, as only Munster can do, they went out and got the bonus point in emphatic fashion and secured that all-important home quarter-final at the expense of, you guessed it, Toulouse. That’s what the Heineken Cup is all about – the excitement of qualification and the anticipation of where you will go once you get there.
But even making it simpler, it’s what the fans want. On Saturday night, despite seeing their side lose, the Leicester fans took the loss in good spirits and were fantastic hosts to all of us Ulster fans. It only reinforced my belief that the Heineken Cup brings out the best not just in the players, but in the fans too, and the Leicester fans made a very enjoyable weekend even better.
So the heads of the PRL, the LNR, the ERC, the Unions, the Six Nations, whoever is behind this debate, please, get the debate sorted. Because last weekend we saw just what makes the Heineken Cup stand out as a club competition, and if it were to go, it would leave a massive void in club rugby, one which no Champions Cup or Anglo-Welsh Premiership could fill.
It’s all a mess.
Sincerely, a disgruntled fan.