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Graham Jenkins
Graham Jenkins | Columnist Index
Graham Jenkins is a former senior editor of ESPNscrum
Greenwood predicts euro woe for English clubs
Graham Jenkins
March 28, 2008

Former England international Will Greenwood fears for the remaining English clubs on the eve of this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals.

The race for European club supremacy resumes next week with some unlikely names set to go head to head in the last eight.

London Irish entertain Perpignan at the Madejski Stadium, Gloucester play host to Munster, Saracens go head-to-head with the Ospreys while Cardiff Blues travel to Toulouse - all in search of a much-prized semi-final berth.

And Greenwood fears the Premiership contingent's quest for euro glory will come unstuck at this latest crucial stage.

"I'm a huge patriot and love my English teams, but I actually don't see any English teams making it through to the semi final," the World Cup winner told Scrum.com this week.

Like rugby fans across the globe Greenwood, who is now a regular face in media circles, is a huge fan of Europe's premier club rugby competition and the drama and excitement it generates.

"Each year the results, the groups it throws up, the quarter-finals, the bonus point conundrum. The abacus is required to work out which team is to go through and who needs to do what, the away win in France that you normally need.

"You can go on, the quality of player that comes together that knows it is such a big tournament. The fans, the stadiums, across the board it is such a magnificent tournament. It brings everything off an on the field together in a wonderful display of colour and passion."

Such is the intensity of the Heineken Cup action Greenwood, capped 57 times by England during a glittering career, belives that it rivals the international stage in terms of quality, insisting, "that if you superimpose international jerseys on you wouldn't be able to tell the difference."

As a result those players re-entering the European fray after a two and a half month respite will be under pressure to raise their game once again.

"They've all got to find the ability to step up their levels of intensity and physicality," insists Greenwood.

"To know that chances will be few and far between at this stage of the Heineken Cup, when they come they have to be precise, they have to be clinical. There's no point in looking at a video on Monday if you're gone, you might as well throw the tape away and try and compete to get in the blooming thing for next year.

"Which is also another question that the English teams left in this tournament will have to ask themselves. On the back of that you would have to say that the team who has played together consistently over the last three or four weeks would be at more of an advantage, and that would tend to point towards the Ospreys wouldn't it?"

European rugby officials announced plans for a new seeding system that will decide the draw for next season's pool stage but Greenwood is unsure if there was a need for such changes.

"A few people have had a few moans and groans about the way the group system worked and the seeding worked, and there do seem to be a couple of inconsistencies.

"But as a supporter you say "what amazing group stages", it doesn't make it a procession where you know exactly who will go through. Everything to play for come the final weekend, I think every single game was still alive in terms of having some impact on who was going to make it to the quarter-finals.

"As an organiser, as a supporter and as a player you couldn't have hoped for much more, of course it's disappointing that some of the top sides didn't make it. But who is a top side? Who's to say that if you come out of a group with Biarritz, Perpignan, Irish [you're not a great side]. Perpignan are having a great run in the top 14. There are a couple of issues that will have to be looked at, but it's that old thing of "if it aint broke don't fix it."

"There are some rather special fixtures we've had already this season and if the group stages hadn't have been like that we wouldn't have had them."

Greenwood is predicting some closely fought contests when the focus returns to the Heineken Cup and we got his take on the four quarter-finals.

London Irish v Perpignan

"They've played each other in the groups before. They'll know a lot about each other. Perpignan felt the ref didn't do them any favours at the Madejski, but you could flip that over and say that their discipline cost them.

"They'll know a lot about each other, London Irish will be fully aware of the size of the Perpignan pack; they'll want to maintain their own game plan, tempo, rhythm, which will keep them the way they want to play which is high tempo. They'll hope Geraghty gets back fit, Kennedy and Casey will be huge in the lineout and they'll have to compete against a front five that includes, Mas, Freshwater, Hines to name but three.

It's London Irish's first time in the knock out stages - will this be an issue?

"Clearly a lot of inexperience but London Irish have real experience in certain key positions and they've got those Great Uncle Bulgaria style characters where everyone feels comfortable with them being around, in the form of [Bob] Casey and [Mike] Catt. The youngsters can look around and see those sorts of guys. Mapasua has played in the Super 14; he knows what it is all about to compete at the top level of club rugby, with Hewat at full back. They'll look to these sorts of guys to provide the experience, to provide the backbone, but without going away from the flair and expanse, and rhythm that they have created on the field."

Perpignan have the ever-reliable boot of Percy Montgomery - surely a key to their game?

"What does Montgomery give you? That ability that when pressure comes and opportunities arise, he turns them into points. They play the game very simply, they get the ball, and they run bloody hard at you. If you don't tackle them they offload it or run straight through you. Then when the chances come Percy's there, in the World Cup final he was kicking his penalties with one leg with his injuries so you know he'll take his chances. Why did Perpignan go and get him? Because they know in the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup you need someone who is nerveless under pressure and Percy fits that category."

So which way do you see that one going?

"I feel it'll be Perpignan by a gnat's whisker."

Gloucester v Munster

What are Gloucester's chances of over-turning the Munstermen?

"They wouldn't be my favourites; I don't think they'd be a lot of peoples favourites. They started the season extremely well, but their line-out is not functioning properly. They miss the experience of Tindall behind them; Ryan Lamb has been out injured and come back, and been out and come back again.

"They'll be wanting him to play, Rory Lawson is a huge player for them, the scrum half. When they were playing at their very best this season they were a force to be reckoned with, but the problem is they haven't been playing like that now and they will have to rediscover that form if they're going to take on, they might have only won it once, but a team that can be considered one of the best outfits the Heineken Cup has ever had in terms of consistency of performance.

"I always think teams with a home advantage should always make it competitive to 50-60 minutes, unfortunately, I'm a huge patriot and love my English teams, but I actually don't see any English teams making it through to the semi final."

Saracens v Opsreys

Will last week's heavy EDF Energy Anglo-Welsh Cup defeat weigh heavy on Sarries?

"You have to just go back to the basics, work hard, dig in and look after your set piece. Scrummage hard, be competitive in the line out and graft for each other.

"Try and get that element of trust, the first thing you lose when you begin to lose a few games is you begin to react differently under pressure, the best teams react as one and you have to find that back out on the training field.

Shane Williams and Gavin Henson are in cracking form for club and country at the moment aren't they?

"Very much so. Really at the heart of a tremendous Welsh performance, they'll be the first to say that it has been a cracking team effort across the board. That's 1-22 buying into that, not just one or two players.

"To have that sort of defensive record makes it so much easier to win championships because teams aren't scoring against you.

"On the back of that Shane Williams has provided a spark, been the difference in a couple of games but its been their defence and their desire for each other to work hard and graft hard that has kept them in games and has allowed the flair to come through and win it.

Toulouse v Cardiff Blues

"On this occasion I see home advantage being enough. Cardiff have been pretty solid and in Shanklin and Williams they've got two guys who are having standout performances, and Gethin Jenkins.

"They've got the Kiwi foursome, Xavier Rush, Tito, Spice and Ben Blair at full back. Spice is a feisty little character. They've got a nice little experienced Kiwi quartet to put alongside Welsh talent, Jamie Roberts on one wing, the giant lad.

"They've got a decent side, they've come out of a group with Stade Francais in it, which is absolutely no mean feat. They could have won at Stade, but Stade are so one dimensional, you just get the feeling that Toulouse are not one dimensional and if they turn up the pace and crank up the gears then Cardiff could be in for a tough afternoon.

"I'm sure they'll make it competitive but I can't see anything other than a Toulouse win.

Greenwood is set to be amongst the media throng followig the latest chapter in this year's competition and he is enjoying his new role within the game.

"I try to work pretty hard at it; you watch a lot of games. You get to go to some cracking fixtures, some amazing stadiums, you get to go to places like Thomond Park, Stade Jean Bouin, all these sorts of places when you're working on the Heineken Cup, it's a tremendous tournament to be involved in.

"As yet the coaching tracksuit and boots are still up in a cupboard and I'm going to matches on Saturday and trying to watch them as neutrally as possible."

Will Greenwood is a Heineken ambassador. Get Will's views direct to your in box at www.HeinekenRugby.co.uk

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