The Final Whistle

By Rugby World reader, Andrew Hartup

The French were looking for a clean sweep this week, and for the Heineken Cup final at least, they were assured both the trophy and the runners-up medals. As predicted on this blog, Toulouse ran out winners, although not by as many points as most expected. That’s not for want of trying; Biarritz’s goal-line defence was outstanding in the second half. 21-19, then, and a fourth title for Toulouse.

Hopefully, the French team’s dominance of the competition will be a long-overdue wake-up call for British rugby. It may not be a popular argument among the smaller clubs, but a lifting of the salary cap may be the only way forward – at least in the short-term. It’s no coincidence the better-financed French sides dominated Europe this season. The Guinness Premiership needs to attract bigger players, keep home-grown stars, and develop their leading clubs. It may create disparity over the next few years, but it will undoubtedly forge a better platform to blood younger talents on more pressurised, high-profile stages. How can we develop the likes of Ben Youngs, Alex Goode, and Stephen Myler if they’re not playing at the very top of Northern Hemisphere rugby?

For now, though, an increase in the salary cap just isn’t going to happen, so hopefully, the tweaking of the break-down rules that lead to the Guinness Premiership resurgence during the second half of the season (almost every club actually started scoring tries) will give more attacking-minded teams like Saracens, Northampton and Bath a better chance in next year’s Heineken Cup. And, indeed, the Amlin Cup, which leads us neatly on to…

Congratulations to the Blues for becoming the first Welsh team to win this increasingly tough European tournament. Most scoff at the competition, dismissing it as the second-string Heineken (ok, so it is to an extent) but I wonder how many would fancy the prospect of meeting either Blues or Toulon in any competition right now.

So, the Welsh saved Britain’s rugby blushes this week and that leaves us free to turn our attention to next week’s Premiership final. It seems unlikely the touch-line ban of Brendan Venter will do Saracen’s challenge much good, but there is a chance the club will have the RFU’s decision overturned before Saturday. Best of luck to them – however, I’m keeping my money on reliable Leicester who will be delighted to know that their internationals heading to Aus and New Zealand will at least be paid properly. Saracens, of course, never really had much of a concern…


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