By Damian Dolan.
To the backdrop of meeting room wranglings over the very future of the Heineken Cup and its poor relation, the Amlin Challenge Cup, Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht go into European battle next weekend in a bid to reaffirm Irish rugby’s standing in the Northern Hemisphere’s premier club competition.
An all French affair in Dublin last May wasn’t quite the finale the ERC, or Ireland’s provinces more to the point, had envisaged. For too long, Ireland’s provinces have had it all their own way in the Heineken Cup – five wins in seven years between 2006-12 including one all-Ireland final between Leinster and Ulster.
What remains to be confirmed now, however, is whether last year was one-off or an indication of a long-term shift in the balance of power in European club rugby to the Top 14 in France.
Against all expectations, it was Munster who flew the flag for Ireland longest and furtherest before bowing out to Clermont Auvergne in the semi-finals. That came on the back of a quarter-final win over then reigning English champions Harlequins in their own back yard at the Stoop – a performance and victory that wouldn’t have been out of place among any from Munster’s glory days. It was Munster at their belligerent and stubborn best.
For more see this week’s edition of the Irish World