Heineken Cup As Good As It Gets

Most of us who are lucky enough to be in this profession will tell you that the Heineken Cup is as good as it gets in the northern hemisphere.

I have had friends tell me how good it is to watch on TV. Imagine how good it is to play in.

It’s like you and your mates taking on the world - especially when you are away from home.

There are no small sides in it any more. Every game is a big occasion played in front of large crowds and cracking atmospheres.

It’s close to a Test match in terms of intensity and, when you get to the latter stages of the tournament, that is probably because most of the players on show actually are Test players.

As well as clubs building up rivalries after years of combat in the competition, there is also a feeling of country versus country. There are lots of foreigners in all teams now but when you travel to places like France, there is always a bit of edge.

And last year for the Tigers when we played Leinster in the quarter-finals, there was a real sense of England v Ireland - especially for the England lads who had just lost to Ireland in the Six Nations.

Personally, I have had some great times in the tournament during a spell at Wasps in which we were very successful.

I also remember a few more testing times.

I vividly remember going to Toulouse with Wasps in 2005/6. We played them at the football ground, the Stade Municipal. When we ran out, there were 33,000 Toulouse fans in a crowd of 34,000.

There was an ear-piercing din. They were just booing us. It was so loud, you could barely hear yourself think.

It was incredible and actually bought the best out of me. It was a fantastic place to play rugby.

If that was intimidating, one night in Wales to face the now defunct Celtic Warriors in 2003/4 was even worse. The locals were swearing and even spitting at us. To get onto the pitch, we had to run through a really narrow gap in the crowd and I genuinely thought someone was going to lamp one of the

Wasps boys. There were kids abusing us and poor old Lawrence Dallaglio got the brunt of it as you could imagine.

I like to think it was character-building. We won 17-12 and went on to beat Toulouse in the final.

The Heineken Cup starts on Friday evening, televised live on Sky Sports HD2 & 2.

Read more from George Skivington at Living Rugby.

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