The last, glorious hurrah?
October 11, 2013
One last time ... © PA Photos
Given the talk of recent weeks, a casual rugby fan might be forgiven for thinking that the Heineken Cup was an unloved competition on its last legs. But when the 19th and, sadly, probably last year of this prestigious tournament starts tonight it will captivate spectators and, in between the inevitable mismatches, provide some cracking rugby.
Those behind the new competition would like to give the impression what they are offering will be better and more appealing than what we have now. It won't. At best, assuming all the second-tier countries reluctantly join, it will be more of the same with a lot more hype and glitter.
Just as when the Football League Division One became the Premier League in 1992 the core product was exactly the same, so it will be next season. The only difference is that the English and French clubs will get a bigger share of the pie. And BT will get more rugby to show, albeit at quite a hefty cost to them.
What is certain is that the coming months will see more meetings, briefings, rumours and posturing. At the end of it there will be a European competition in 2014-15; the only unknowns are the format and the participants.
For now, forget the tedium of the politics and sit back and enjoy one of the world's most successful club competitions while it lasts.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Managing Editor, ESPN EMEA Digital Media
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game
Amy Perrett, the Australian referee who whistled the Women's Rugby World Cup final after handling only six Tests, talks to Jamie Lyall