I was writing a column for the Sunday Times, last Thursday. The subject was the French challenge in the forthcoming Heineken Cup. I was tapping away, when I reached the thought of Wasps versus Toulouse. The pulse beat a little quicker and the smile (for once) lit up the face before I could regain the traditional grumpy persona. That is what the Heineken Cup does for rugby lovers.

It is growing into a quite magnificent tournament with the colour, power and finesse of the French challenge, the professional determination and organisation (too much perhaps?) of the English, the potential of the Welsh, the enthusiasm of Treviso from Italy, the eternal Munster Odyssey that would have Odysseus himself wondering if he’ll ever make his final destination and the quiet optimism of Scotland where Frank Hadden’s presence as national coach and the much respected Todd Blackadder at Edinburgh have them hoping for better things north of the border.
Unfortunately for Edinburgh, they have drawn Wasps and Toulouse, not to mention the Scarlets. Qualification would be an amazing achievement; a few wins would be excellent while player development will be expected.
That is how the tournament functions, on many levels. The Italian teams need the oxygen of this high octane tournament to help their best learn to play at test match pace, while the clubs of England and France seek victory, however it comes.
The next fortnight will fascinate and hopefully throw up some challenges to international rugby’s November calendar. Wales’s win in France apart, the tripartite battles between Leicester, Wasps and Biarritz were as good as any international rugby in last season’s domestic campaign. This time around Wasps and Toulouse are thrown in together, while Leicester has a nightmare of two French teams to beat if they are to escape their pool.
It all kicks off with Sale versus Munster Friday. The Cheshire team will head into Europe buoyed by a powerful performance against Wasps last Friday. The bookmakers will make them favourites but Munster has long been a team to ignore the bookies. Make a date with your screens this weekend. If your partner is no fan of the sport, spend some money on flowers, splash out on a meal, preferably next Monday night.