Who Are The Top Eight of Europe?

Five years ago, you could easily pick the eight or ten teams that would contest the Heineken Cup quarter-finals from the moment the pool stages were announced.

That is far from the case now and the results on the opening day of the competition proved that.

Glasgow and Edinburgh both had good wins over English opponents, Connaught did well at Harlequins and Aironi came back against us well in Italy.

Big guns like Toulouse only just edged past Gloucester at home, Clermont lost at Ulster and both Leinster and Munster were pushed at the way by Montpellier and Northampton.

You have to take into consideration that the first round of the Heineken Cup usually throws up some strange results because sides are just getting into the swing of things.

That is especially the case in a World Cup year.

But it is going to be hard to pick that top eight this season and there are genuinely numerous sides who could win it.

That said, I still think it will be a while before the Scots or the Italians will be able to boast a quarter-finalist. The Italians need to build some consistency instead of getting the odd good result here and there. While the Scots issue is mainly over finance. Can the Edinburghs and Glasgows of this world find enough money to stop their best players going abroad to play?

I would like to be able to tell you a few stories about Tigers trip to Aironi. But our visit to Monza was the anti-thesis of the old days where a team might have a night out in the country they were in to celebrate a win.

We flew in, went to the hotel – after the driver had circled it for 30 minutes trying to find the place – woke up, played the game and flew home.

I didn’t get off the bench and even the food was ordinary.

Onwards and upwards, as they say.


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