It's The European Champions V The English Champions - Barnes
19 May 2004 11:08am
Congratulations to Llanelli for wrapping up the Celtic League. It was well deserved.
In England, we await the crowning of the champions, much to the displeasure of Bath supporters.
Right or wrong, these are the rules and had Bath finished runners-up, I am sure the support for the final would have been nearer the level accorded it by Wasps fans.
It is easy to say that Bath are champions because they have earned the most points in the league system but who knows whether Wasps would have beaten both Gloucester and Leicester if they had needed the wins to clinch the title?
Lawrence Dallaglio made the point Sunday. Wasps win when they must. Under these current rules the two games before Sunday were simply not must-win games.
Dallaglio: must-win games
For all the excellence of the Tigers, one wonders how different the clash between the teams would have been had the Wasps had to win. We shall never know. What we do know is that the best two teams in England are 80 minutes from being champions.
If Bath achieve success it will be an almost miraculous effort.
From near the bottom to top with so many new players, perceived before the season as journeymen. Wasps, last season's champions, are close to being ranked a great team.
Two wins in the next fortnight will take them halfway to Leicester's mighty record of four consecutive English titles and two European Cups. If they manage this feat, they may not yet be great but they will be bloody good.
Away from club matters, the England squad was announced. It was largely as expected with Bath and Wasps well represented. Despite retirements and absentees there are no excuses. England have the largest playing base in world rugby and talent coming through.
Of the trio 'rested', Jason Robinson is the only one whose form since the World Cup entitles him to make the Test team. It is a powerful outfit and one under pressure. Should England blank this trip, their record will be five defeats from eight since becoming World Champions. That would tarnish the gleam surrounding the game since November.
Robinson: earned his rest
It is the hardest trip in world rugby and some have questioned the wisdom of it.
On the flip side, two wins in New Zealand and Australia would wipe away the hurt and failure of the Six Nations. All that and fascinating tours from Wales, Scotland and Ireland to come (the Irish South Africa Tests particularly appeal) but right now it is back to Europe.
Harlequins versus Montferrand for the Parker Pen and a Heineken spot next season and then the big one.
The European champions versus the English champions; if you cannot get a ticket strap yourselves into your sofa for this one.
Finals Edition: Listen to the best guide to the European Rugby Cup Finals weekend in Dublin, which sees Leinster Rugby take on Stade Francais Paris at the RDS on Friday night in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final and then ASM Clermont Auvergne tackle Toulon in an all-French affair at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.