I’m really getting into the Heineken cup this season. Even the pool stages this year have seen some amazingly competitive games, tight finishes, upsets and some seriously easy on the eye rugby. One issue seems to have been highlighted though and that’s the limited success of English teams in the competition.
Firstly, I don’t have a lot of statistics in front of me, or the inclination towards digging around for them and I do recognise that English teams have had some success with Wasps, Leicester and Northampton all reaching the finals in the last 5 years. So, my conclusions are based on this season and only Saracens making it through from the 12 team Aviva premiership, 2 making it from the 14 team top 14 and 5 through from the Rabodirect pro 12. It’s a numbers game.
Essentially the pro 12 is a miniature Heineken cup. There are 4 teams from Ireland, 4 from Wales, 2 from Scotland and 2 from Italy. Their national team squads are divided up between either 4 or 2 teams with a sprinkling of foreign and other homegrown talent. In England, the best players are spread between 12 teams and in France, between 14. This is a substantial dilution. The French teams have no salary cap and can supplement this dilution with world class foreign talent, the premiership clubs struggle in this regard.
The rabo direct teams all train and play with more international standard players day in and day out than any of the English clubs and play against higher quality players. This also serves to accelerate the development of any younger players in the squads. The conveyor belt of talent from Munster and Leinster are demonstrative of this and this undoubtedly will impact upon the national teams. The England squad has been picked from 7 different English teams (1 other from France and 1 in Wales), the Ireland squad from has been picked from 3 teams (1 other from Wales, 1 from Connacht in the extended squad), with limited time together as a squad, this will surely too have an effect.
I’ve been impressed so far with Stuart Lancaster and the decisions he has been making. Is this England’s bright new dawn? I fear not. I used to enjoy the regional matches, I can’t see England competing until a structure like that is introduced and I certainly don’t see blowing the salary cap as a sustainable way forward.