7 Jun, 15:39
ERC can confirm that the Federation Française de Rugby (FFR) has withdrawn its application to host the 2014 Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup finals, due to the ongoing uncertainty regarding the availability of the Stade de France.
This year the Irish have four teams to cheer on, as London Irish make a welcome return but will face stiff opposition in Pool 5 against Llanelli, Toulouse and Ulster. Their clash with Ulster sees one of the former London Irish stalwarts Kieron Dawson, go against his former team, this time in an Ulster shirt. Originally hailing from Bangor in County Down, Dawson played over 190 games for London Irish before joining Ulster at the start of this season. It will be an emotional outing for Dawson, but when London Irish play against a province, it's always a high-octane game.
Munster, who are currently sitting second from bottom in the domestic league are something of a sleeping giant this time around. So often the bridesmaid at the European altar, they banished the evils of lost finals last year when in such memorable style, they defeated Biarritz in Cardiff, achieving Heineken success the effects of which will be long felt throughout the province for many years to come.
In public, Munster will play down their efforts, however behind closed doors, 'The Faithful' will be filled to the brim with passion and pride. If you think Munster aren't going to put up a ferocious fight to maintain their strangle hold on European Rugby… think again, for this team have only begun to hit form. With a new skipper in the form of the flame haired Paul O'Connell, you can be sure Munster will be lead from the front, as the big Young Munster lock doesn't know how to take a backward step.
It's been a long time in coming, but Leinster have finally began to show a glimmer of their potential under the expert guidance of Australian amigo's Michael Cheika and David Knox. The Randwick Rugby pairing have been like a breath of fresh air in Dublin 4, injecting new life and a renewed enthusiasm into the blue of Leinster.
O'Driscoll and D'Arcy are being set free by the pin-point passes from Argentine outhalf Felipe Contepomi who has amassed 55 points in the opening few games of the domestic league. All the while the forwards have proved they are not the pushover the press would have you believe, which was fairly evident by their handling of the Munster pack in a recent derby clash in Dublin.
So, will Irish Eyes be smiling at the end of May 2007?
I can guarantee you these Irish eyes will certainly be smiling, regardless of who eventually lifts the Heineken Cup on 20th May at Twickenham, you can rest assured we will have experienced a majestic display of breathtaking rugby… BUT I will smile that little bit more if an Irish team does the business….
Manus Lappin is the Editor of Emerald Rugby, Ireland's leading Rugby magazine. For more rugby coverage checkout www.emeraldrugby.com or pick up a copy of Emerald Rugby at your local newsagent.