Two weeks ago it was almost inconceivable. France and Ireland, utterly dominant in the Six Nations, would see all their representatives crash out at the Heineken Cup quarter final stages…
… as the English clubs made a mockery of the criticism of the English club system aimed in their direction earlier in the pool stages when things looked bleak.
Wasps were overwhelmingly powerful, Leicester excellent at times, efficient at others and determined at all and then Northampton….what can you say?
Perhaps the greatest shock in the history of the tournament as Biarritz, twice comfortable conquerors of the Saints at pool stage lost in San Sebastian as 1,000 Saints fans witnessed the nearest thing you might see to a rugby miracle.
Biarritz, lethargic beyond their normal excesses of lethargy played their part and handed the chance to the Saints but how they scrapped for the win from first to last. They are still not playing great rugby but sport is about spirit too and in San Sebastian the Saints rediscovered theirs – it will be needed for the battle to avoid relegation in the weeks ahead and to beat a Wasps team that have a lean and hungry late season look to them which spells trouble for all.
It was testimony to the power of the English system but do not bet your house on an English victory quite yet because amidst all the power of England, Llanelli Scarlets are standing tall and moving quickly.
Phil Davies’s team has revitalised the reputation for running rugby in West Wales and mixed it with a pack that gives little in the tight. Their Friday night demolition of Munster was probably the performance of the round and a special mention for Stephen Jones, who has bounced back from injury and intense pressure in Wales to conjure a brave and inspiring effort to keep his team playing the game the Llanelli way throughout.
It was an inspiring night, an inspiring weekend. Fingers crossed that this tournament can escape the clutches of the politics which threatens its immediate future because this is a special event. Hope you enjoyed it.