Out of the frying pan, into the fire?
October 10, 2012
Can Quins skipper Chris Robshaw inspire a swift turnaround in fortunes for his side? © Getty Images
The Heineken Cup kicks off this weekend and I'm sure that the teams involved will be looking forward to doing some of their talking on the field. Going forward, whether the Premiership clubs are still involved with Europe, I don't know, but it won't detract from this year's competition - I'm sure it will be as good as it always is. In regards to the much publicised future of the tournament, I think the Premiership clubs have acted well within their rights by stating that they didn't want to be part of the competition in its current format and I'm sure things have got a long way to run off the field before it is resolved.
But I am hopeful that when the first ball is kicked and passed on Friday, all talk of the uncertainty regarding the future of the tournament will be put to one side as it's a quality competition and there's always a great game in every round. There are a fair few eye catching fixtures this weekend and no more so than my old club Leicester's trip to Toulouse. It is one of the most difficult places to play but having said that, perhaps you'd prefer to play them in the first game of the tournament as it's a match where most teams will struggle to hit their European straps. Things do change when it comes to playing in the Heineken Cup; it's not your average domestic competition and there's a chance that the Tigers could go to France and steal something from the giants.
It's almost better to have an away game first in Europe as if you lose, then you have all of your home games left to pick up some valuable wins. The worst thing that can happen in a Heineken Cup campaign is to lose your first home match. Harlequins will need to be mindful of this when they host Biarritz on Saturday. They had a stumble against Exeter at the weekend so it will be interesting to see how they respond and whether Biarritz take a leaf out of the Chiefs' books and take note of how to close down Quins and prevent them from playing their usual game.
And I am really looking forward to seeing how the champions do. They have started the new season well but have hit a little blip. They need to get back their normal game where they flood a channel then attack through - it's their brand of rugby and they're leading the way in England by playing in that way.
At the other end of the Premiership table and also kicking off their European campaign is Sale. They face Cardiff on Saturday and they need the break away from the top flight. It'll take the pressure off them for a little while as this season's going to be all about getting to a point where they're not in a relegation dogfight. If you're realistic then you have to say that Sale will not be targeting a European title this year based on the position they are in at the moment. It'll be a chance to get some combinations working without the pressure of the points on offer. And they could pick up a few wins - they've got some guys with some extensive European experience. They've got Richie Gray in their ranks and there'll be a host of other guys who will be looking forward to the challenge and renewing some rivalries with some old opposition.
It could be the perfect way to kick-start their season as they are in a tough position and I don't think the scores in the tournament will be as important as their style of rugby. And according to reports I saw over the weekend in the press, it seems as if John Mitchell may be on the verge of joining the ranks at the Sharks.
If he does become their new forwards coach then it's exactly what they need. When you find yourself in a situation like the Sharks are in and you have to try and fight your way out of a corner, then there's no one better than John Mitchell. Their coach Bryan Redpath is less of a taskmaster than Mitchell so that combination of carrot and stick could work well for them. He's got a great rugby brain, has got a lot of success in the game so if it comes off, then it'll be a superb appointment for the Sharks.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ben Kay is a co-commentator for ESPN
Firdose Moonda talks to Rob Louw about the difficulties of being a South African touring New Zealand at the height of Apartheid
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games