Monday, 21 January 2008

Refreshing the parts...

Well, that's the quarter final line-up for the Heineken Cup (or the H-Cup, as it's known in France) now sorted and I must say that my prediction (which admittedly I only made last week) that London Irish, Gloucester, Stade, Saracens, Munster, Toulouse, Perpignan, and Ospreys would go through, was quite close to the mark. Only Cardiff, with their win in Bristol, upset the applecart.

Are there any conclusions to be drawn? Well, despite reports to the contrary I don't think that the fact the Welsh have two teams in the quarter finals for the first time is particularly significant. Neither the Ospreys or Cardiff really came through difficult groups - the former going through as a best runner-up while the latter were aided and abetted by Stade failing to turn up at Bristol. Had the seeding of the competition been remotely fair then we'd have surely seen the likes of Wasps and Leicester progress, probably at the expense of one of the Welsh teams and, possibly, London Irish.

Three English clubs have quarter final ties at home but all three had a relatively easy passage and they'll still all be up against it - of the three I'd say Saracens have the best chance of progressing further, being at home to the Ospreys, while London Irish have a difficult repeat fixture against Perpignan and the Glouceter v Munster clash is just impossible to call. In the other quarter final you have to fancy Toulouse to win at home against Cardiff.

So how will this affect the rapidly approaching 6 Nations? The obvious conclusion is that England look well placed based on their club form but, with not too many players from Gloucester, Irish or Sarries in the England squad, it's hardly any sort of barometer really. One major effect on England might well be the injury to Simon Shaw - they'll certainly miss his bulk and athleticism - although at 34 he's probably only got a year or so left at the highest level and there's a case for looking a bit further ahead. Wales will be in good spirits but will obviously be without the Kiwi contingent that is so important to both the Ospreys and Cardiff, the form of Ronan O'Gara bodes well for Ireland (the form of the Leinster backs less so) and both Scotland and Italy, with no quarter-finalists, will reflect that it was ever thus and will rely on their national set-ups to revive their respective fortunes. As for France, well who knows what to expect? New coach, new players, new tactics? One thing's for sure, it certainly won't be boring.

1 comment:

Nursedude said...

Hi Flanker, Gloucester-Munster looks like the most interesting of the quarterfinals, doesn't it? Given how much intrigue there was on this past weekend, I think you did swimmingly well picking 7 our of 8 quarterfinalists. You have to like the chances of the Cloucester-Munster winner running the table.