Stuart Barnes says English clubs will gain an edge over their European rivals by playing an offensive game.
Last Updated: 27/08/12 11:54am
By the end of last season the Premiership had clearly overtaken its French counterpart in terms of inventiveness and ambition.
France might have most of the money but our friends the other side of the Channel have not been buying rugby brains. The macho culture of French rugby is smothering their aspirations at the highest levels.
Toulouse has a fantastic squad but until they find a way to revive their intoxicating balance of forward power and subtle back play they will find Heineken trophies hard to come by. As someone who has long loved - rather than admired - the special madness that is French rugby the sooner French rugby picks up the pace of their game the better but I will not be holding my breath this season.
In contrast I think the English clubs may just offer a greater challenge to the might of Leinster and the consistency of the Irish game (with recognition of their undoubted advantages at Heineken level duly noted but NOT used as an excuse).
The prime reason Leinster has dominated has been because of the speed and accuracy and the ambition of their game. Their outstanding coach, Joe Schmidt (surely considered as the Lions attack coach) has them revved up and the rest of Europe is struggling to keep up.
English club rugby has been chugging along in lower, grinding gears yet last season we saw a decided shift towards the end of the campaign. The most balanced and creative side in the country - Harlequins - claimed the title and the most aggressive attacking team - Leicester, were runners up.
These teams should be capable of a decent European campaign, especially the Tigers. I am expecting big things from Miles Benjamin and some influential stuff in the midfield from Dan Bowden. These are not the only sides that succeeded through attack.
Sale did superbly to qualify for Europe; they opened up on an unsuitably narrow field and startling talent like Rob Miller flourished. The full-back has vision, skill and speed. He is one to watch; so too will this personality obsessed planet keep a beady eye on a certain Mr Cipriani. If he and Dwayne Peel click, Sale could be a dazzling prospect on their brand spanking new Salford Ground. When not wearing his Scottish colours there will be Richie Grey to guarantee line out in the middle (an area Sale struggled last season) alongside Kyran Myall, one of the most underestimated players in the country. They are youthful but exciting; a team to keep an eye out for.
London Welsh might not have been made welcome by the game's cartel-minded businessmen and they may have less money and time to prepare than the other eleven teams but the last four promoted teams have all survived and Welsh might not be the dead ducks bookmakers think and other coaches hope.
Their clever offensive game will cause damage. Much is made of their 'weak' set piece but Newcastle went down with a decent one. It is not the possession you win that counts but how you use it. That should give Welsh hope.
That is the message coming loud and clear from the Rugby Championship. New Zealand did not dominate Australia in terms of possession but for one hundred and sixty minutes the Wallabies, with their patient, slow ball have barely caused a problem. The contrast between their keeping the ball for its own sake and New Zealand's aggressively quick ball from the breakdown has been startling. It has turned a rivalry into a rout.
Unless South Africa can find something extra the inaugural Championship could be a procession. The greatest traditional rivals of them all for New Zealand were fortunate to make it out of Mendoza with a draw. There was not a great deal of rugby played and that which was played was played by Argentina.
The Pumas are not a bunch of dazzlers but the crowd and their mighty skipper, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, inspired them to the point where a draw was close to a travesty. It was, however, a fine result for the Pumas with the excellence off the bench a generally unmentioned source of long term contentment.
Of the two games it was the one that got me off my sofa. Everyone loves an underdog. The manner of South Africa's efforts means they will be underdog when they meet New Zealand at this competition's denouement. Still, Argentina were lifted by the crowd, do not write off the Soweto effect.
I was in South Africa in 1995 when an even better All Blacks team lost a World Cup they could not possibly win. Rugby is, like our cousin, football, a funny old game.Nothing funny for Robbie Deans; he is under the cosh for the drab style of the Wallabies. Warren Gatland will doubtless monitor the ongoing Australian problems.
Yep, the Lions round off what is always a special season when they tour. That shadow is in the background throughout the British and Irish winter (I assume we won't bother with autumn as we didn't with summer).
But for now let's focus on London Welsh and the massive challenge that is a home game with a Tigers team that will be determined to keep attacking but more focussed on their defence. With Harlequins away in week two, the very least needed is a morale booster of a performance.
Good luck to them and every other team in Europe; here's to hoping they have watched New Zealand and Leinster and worked out smart and ambitious rugby wins. To those that continue to grind, all the worst; to those who want to use both brains and brawn, the very best of luck.
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EXITING THE EUROStuart, what do you think of the clubs in England and France serving notice to quit Heineken Cup because the format too heavily favours Celtic sides? Bill Griffiths
STUART REPLIES: Bill, they are right, it does; but they are wrong to start threatening and posturing, especially as the English game has hardly been in a European position of strength for some time.
MEYER MOVED ON?Hi Stuart, not sure if you will cover this in your article but am interested in your views on Heyneke Meyer? I know big forwards and tackling the tackle is traditionally their strength but they do have some great backs who can really play. Does SA have the players to play a different sort of game or has Meyer not moved on from his Bulls days? Adrian Warner
STUART REPLIES: Adrian, The Bulls and South Africa are one and the same and SA appointed him to deliver Bulls rugby but on Saturday we saw that a genius like Fourie Du Preez is useful to move a herd of Bulls around.
TALENT ON TRIALStuart, how do the All Blacks get it so right when introducing youngsters into the team? England never seem to be able to get it right yet I saw a New Zealand side made up of some fantastic 'new' talent gel almost seamlessly with the 'old' hands to demolish Australia. What is their secret? Mark Hillington
STUART REPLIES: Mark, Rugby knowledge. They educate their players into the basics from an early age and make good decisions. The world has forgotten the key traditions, New Zealand has not.
MILLER TIMEGreetings Mr. Barnes, any young players we should be looking out for this season and do you think there will be an overseas player who will be more influential for their club than a certain Mr Evans is at Harlequins? Justin Duvenage
STUART REPLIES: Rob Miller is the man I am watching closely...how about Chris Robshaw being even more influential than Nick Evans? Just a thought.