Taking a break from the Aviva Premiership action this weekend to settle into the various European competitions makes for a nice change of pace to see how the home teams are stacking up against their competition across the border.
There are some cracking games billed for this weekend with one of the monster clashes coming between Saracens and Toulon. As a side that are consistently hunting around the Top 14 in France and have a pretty decent history in European rugby, it will be interesting to see how they take last year’s Champions to task. Making the quarters last year will give them confidence, but I fail to see how many clubs, either English or European are going to put the anchors on a will drilled Sarries outfit at the moment. I appreciate that Wasps are giving them a run for their money in terms of attack, but that defence, wow. Shipping an average of only 10 points a game is outstanding, and it could be this that makes all the difference at the end of both competitions.
The other main players out of the premiership of course are the afore mentioned Wasps and they look to have more of a gentle canter into this competition with an outing against Zebre and you’d have to wager that with the form Wasps are in at present, that this game is going to be a formality.
The other game I am going to have a keen eye on is the Gloucester boys who will be taking on Bayonne in the Challenge Cup and I am certainly hoping that with the pressure of the premiership off their shoulders for the weekend, they’ll show up and play some decent high pressure rugby. Away from Kingsholm last weekend you could tell that not having the expectation of the home crowd weighing heavy on them made all the difference in their performance on the pitch, and to run Exeter to a draw at home is not to be sniffed at as they are usually commanding in their own back yard.
Gloucester have of course suffered a minor psychological setback this week with the confirmation that captain and all round quality player Greig Laidlaw will be hanging up his cherry and white jersey come season end and heading off to the Top 14 to play for Clermont Auvergne. Evidently the metronomic reliability of the Scotsman’s kicking hasn’t gone unnoticed and we all know that when it comes down to it, premiership clubs are going to struggle to hold onto players hitting their wonder years because the money just isn’t there. He’ll be missed not only for his reliability but also the utility nature of his playing style which led to him conducting the whole field nicely.
So it’s down to business and hoping that we put in some solid performances over the weekend; it’s a funny business watching European rugby especially if your team aren’t in it because you can almost put your differences to one side for the weekend and just settle in to supporting a team from the home nations and hope that we come out on top. Don’t feel obliged to cheer though… that’s just treachery.