Heineken Cup opening weekend proves it’s the best club cup competition in the world
There no bush to beat when it comes to deciding the world’s best club cup competition. The Heineken Cup, quite simply, rules supreme. Rugby union’s premier club tournament trumps World Series by a considerable margin, does a gloating merry jig in front of the Indian Premier League and spits in the face of the bloated UEFA Champions League. Only the Super 15 comes close. And even then, having watched two games from the opening weekend of the 2012 Heineken Cup, it would be incredibly hard to argue that the southern hemisphere’s hallowed rugby league competition can match it’s European union counterpart for the regular rollercoaster rides of drama it serves up.
Take Munster against Northampton on Saturday. The former, for a long while, looked like succumbing to the mountain-moving scrum and superior back line of last year’s finalists, who benefited having Ben Foden in fine form both positionally and with ball in hand.
Alas just like that day last May, Jim Mallander’s team were undone by an Irish number ten. Where Jonathan Sexton had inspired Leinster to come back from a deficit of stupid proportions, Ronan O’Gara succeeded with a drop kick after a gutsy 40 phases of play in and around halfway line at Thomand Park. I’ll confess that my cup of coffee, kindly handed to me with seven or eight minutes to go, went cold, having been left unattended as a result of the breathless bruising on show.
After such an encounter, it was somewhat bold to return to Heineken Cup watching duty the following day as nothing would surely reach the heights of Ronan’s last minute heroism. But reach those heights it did as a scrappy match between Glasgow Warriors and Bath ended with the beanpole Richie Gray anticipate a short and rather tame drop goal attempt by his fly-half Duncan Weir, gratefully clutch the ball into his barrel chest and go under the posts. This was lick-your-lips stuff.
There was mountains of it too, even if I didn’t get to watch it. Gloucester lost out by a score and Edinburgh pipped London Irish away from home by a solitary point. And, only then did it dawn on me that nothing in football’s lucrative cup competition had provided this kind of coffee-cooling effect nor rendered my lips needing vaseline like an alcoholic needs large quantities of cheap dry cider. Save Manchester City’s last gasp victory against Villarreal, all the games had been walkovers or underwhelmers.
Here, however, on the opening weekend of this season’s Heineken Cup, drama flowed in abundance. And as I trudged off to get myself another coffee, I realised there is no better club cup competition than rugby union’s prestigious European tournament. I’d put my chapstick on that.