So far, this year’s Champions Cup action has seemed to suggest the dominance of Irish and French club rugby over English.
This weekend, the Irish provinces picked up three victories out of four against Premiership sides. Saracens lost to Munster, Ulster beat the ‘Quins and Northampton were humbled by Leinster in a seven-try thrashing; meanwhile, Bath were beaten 17-34 at home to Clermont Auvergne on Friday. Gloucester were the only team to win against a non-Premiership opposition – they beat Connacht 26-17 at home on Sunday – but so far it seems like Exeter chiefs are the only English side nailed on to get out of their group.
The most significant of these defeats – or victories, depends which way you look at it – was Leinster’s comprehensive thrashing of Northampton Saints 43-16. Northampton Saints, a side that seemed to be returning to their best and, if the Premiership table means anything, supposedly the best club side in England at the moment got taken apart by Leinster in their own back yard.
This goes to show that leading the Premiership is not the sign of dominance that maybe it should be. Northampton coach Chris Boyd said after the game that there were not many teams in the Premiership of Leinster’s standards, and that potentially only Saracens can compete on that level and some want them ejected.
This is true. With Saracens floundering at the bottom of the Premiership after their fine and points docking; Leicester a shadow of their former self – seemingly a club in downward decline; and teams like Bath not really able to get going this season, the Premiership has lost some of its big names that can compete on the European stage.
It remains to be seen how English clubs will fare in the Champions Cup this season, but with Saracens seemingly focused on Premiership survival, it leaves a gaping hole for another club to fill and represent English rugby on a European level.
By Will Sewell.