McGeechan praise for euro battle
October 6, 2008
Wasps and Lions boss Ian McGeechan is wearing two hats in this season's Heineken Cup © Getty Images
Ian McGeechan has revealed he will watch the Heineken Cup as closely as the Six Nations when it comes to picking his squad for the Lions tour of South Africa.
The Wasps director of rugby believes Europe's premier club competition is now virtually on a par with the Test arena in terms of skill level and intensity. Speaking at today's official launch of the Heineken Cup at Murrayfield - the venue for this season's final - Lions head coach McGeechan explained he would be would be monitoring the performances of British and Irish players during the opening round of pool matches.
"For players, it's a new challenge and I'll be watching with interest," he said when asked if he would be wearing his Lions hat this weekend. McGeechan's other hat as far as the Heineken Cup is concerned is helping two-time winners Wasps navigate Pool Two, which includes Magners League champions Leinster and French club Castres.
The Scot refused to make predictions about how far his side or any other would go in the competition and believes the pools are so close, qualification could come down to one crucial match in each case. He said: "I think it's a very tough tournament to call and I think there are always games at pool stages where every coach and every player will say, 'This is one we have to perform in'.
"Everybody will ask that question in the pool stages, never mind the knockout stages."
For Edinburgh head coach Andy Robinson, that game is Saturday's opener against Leinster. "I think it all centres around that first game when we play Leinster at home," he said. "If we want to get a foothold in the tournament, we've got to win that. We lost it last year to Toulouse, 19-15, so it's a key game for us."
No Scottish team has come close to winning the tournament since its inception 13 years ago but Robinson believes Glasgow narrowly missing out on the quarter-finals last year and Edinburgh's improvement during his tenure are reasons for optimism.
Like McGeechan, the former England boss will not just be watching his own side this weekend. "I'm going to be sat watching all the Heineken games because I'm interested in every single game that is going on," Robinson said.
That will almost certainly include Sunday's mouthwatering Pool Three opener between Leicester and the Ospreys, arguably the biggest clash of the weekend. The pair have met four times in all competitions in the last three years, including two Heineken Cup ties and the last two EDF Energy Cup finals.
Both Tigers captain Martin Corry and Ospreys counterpart Ryan Jones agree that real rivalry now exists between the clubs.
"The great thing with the Heineken Cup is it's been going 14 years now and you start to build up rivalries and great histories," Corry said. "One we've got with Ryan and the Ospreys. We know each other's games and we've got a huge amount of respect for them.
"They seem to be improving year on year, we're trying to improve from last year. It should be a great encounter."
Wales skipper Jones added: "It is a fantastic rivalry. We're getting to know each other really well and it's become a bit of a romantic fixture for us. We had a friendly a few months ago - or not so friendly. It's great and it's by games like that you measure just how good you are as it's the pinnacle of club rugby."
Ospreys were many people's favourites to win the competition last season until they suffered a shock quarter-final defeat to Saracens. Jones said: "We were bitterly disappointed last year that we didn't go further on the basis of what was a very successful year for us. We finally broke the back of getting out of the group stages and I think we learned a big lesson there.
"If you look at the heavyweights in Europe, the likes of Martin and Leicester, Wasps and Munster, they've been at the business end of the tournament year on year. They've both won and lost some pretty big encounters but they're teams that have learned from them."
Corry added: "The Heineken Cup - that's where you judge yourself. Everybody says it's the premier competition in the northern hemisphere. I think it's the premier competition in the world."
© PA Sport
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