European Champions Cup
Although the purpose of The Lineout is to focus on International Test Rugby, there are two annual competitions that set the tone for the composition and selection of national squads for International Test Rugby. In the Southern Hemisphere it is Super Rugby, comprising 15 of the best club sides from South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. In the Northern Hemisphere it is the European Champions Cup, which used to be called the Heineken Cup, and comprises the best club teams from England, France, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy.
The European Champions Cup gets underway this weekend and will run over six weekends of pool games and then a series of knockout stages from now until May. As much as I would like to, as I am a one man band at the moment, I cannot watch ten games of rugby each weekend the Champions Cup is being played. Instead, each weekend I will focus on the matches played by the top three clubs in a particular country. So this weekend we will focus on three English Clubs – Northampton, Saracens and Bath to try and get an idea of how these teams performance will reflect England`s selection for the Autumn Internationals in November as well as the Six Nations in February/March. Next weekend we will look at the three top French clubs and ultimately work our way through to Italy by the end of the Championship. Obviously as Wales only has two teams in the Champions Cup and Scotland and Italy one each, then coverage of those weekends will not be as comprehensive as when we cover England, France and Ireland who all have at least three teams competing. Once the tournament gets to the knockout stages in April and May I will cover all these games leading up to the final in May.
So this weekend, the fixtures I will be covering in this tournament are:
Saracens vs Clermont Auvergne
Glasgow vs Bath
Racing Metro 92 vs Northampton
Obviously as these English clubs are playing French and Scottish teams these fixtures will also provide us with an initial insight into how preparations for France and Scotland`s Autumn International Tests are shaping up and players we can watch for. In addition, for our Canadian audience many of these teams have a smattering of Canadian players who are gaining valuable big match experience at the top tier of European rugby and it will be interesting to see how they perform and what such experience may ultimately lend to Canada`s preparations for next year`s World Cup.