"I was slightly disappointed by the way the Scottish team's fared in last weekend's opening round of the Heineken Cup. I had high hopes for both Edinburgh and Glasgow to make a real impression on this year's competition and perhaps ensure that Scotland had a representative in the quarter finals for the first time in many years.
Glasgow have proved in the past that they can get results on a one off basis, even beating French giants Toulouse in recent years, and it is now a case of proving on a consistent basis that they have the quality to challenge and defeat the better sides in the group, especially at Firhill. That's what was so disappointing about their loss to a misfiring Biarritz side on Saturday - they will probably feel they could and should have taken more from the game.
It's always going to be an uphill battle to qualify if you lose your home games, and an improvement in fortunes will be needed if they are to retain a real interest in the competition beyond the end of October. Although unlucky to concede the game defining try against Biarritz, the Warriors made too many mistakes and never really overly troubled the French side's defence on a regular basis.
Sean Lineen's side are reliant on Dan Parks at Number 10 kicking his goals, and he will be even more important this weekend, with the injuries suffered by the impressive Rob Dewey and DTH van der Merwe likely to keep them out for some time. As a result, Max Evans may be rushed back in at centre but it will take more than his undoubted skill to overcome the Newport-Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade. It's an intimidating atmosphere in South Wales, and anything short of a complete Glasgow performance will see them come away empty-handed. I hope that John Beattie can continue his effective ball carrying against Biarritz and if Colin Gregor or Chris Cusiter can provide more forward momentum at the base of the scrum then the Warriors will have a chance. My biggest concern for Glasgow this weekend is their long list of injuries and with Sean Lineen running out of players it will be a real challenge for his team.
If Glasgow are dependent on Parks' goal kicking, then Edinburgh often look to Chris Paterson's metronomic strike rate with the boot in similar vein. Having a world class kicker in your side can make a real difference, and certainly put pressure on the other team so that they are frightened of giving away kickable penalties. Unfortunately, this wasn't backed up with an all round display last weekend.
After their positive start in the Celtic League with three wins from three, they were off colour in Paris against Stade Francais and too many players across the field had poor games. Rob Moffat's side was quite simply outclassed by the scintillating attacking class of the French aristocrats, as they were blown away in the first half hour try scoring blitz.
If Edinburgh want to bounce back this weekend, then players such as Ally Hogg and Ross Ford upfront, and Mike Blair behind the scrum will need to come to the party. Blair in particular will have a point to prove after a disappointing 6 Nations and Lions tour and the challenge of Cusiter for his Scotland place this autumn. It may only be round two, but both Edinburgh and Glasgow are facing potential 'cup finals' to retain any interest in this season's Heineken Cup.
In terms of the whole competition, the first round of matches merely served to show just how tight it will be to pick a winner, but my instincts tell me that 2010 might see a French winner. The performance of Toulouse against Sale went some way to confirming my pre tournament belief that they are one of the favourites to win the trophy in May. I think they will be red hot this season and have a funny feeling that of all the French teams, they might be the ones who triumph on home soil at the Stade de France.
Each year you never know how the French sides will view the Heineken Cup, with many putting emphasis on winning their domestic league first - but Clermont Auvergne's opening win seems to indicate that this year they believe they can challenge on both fronts. I hope we see them take a strong side to the Ospreys in round 2 and continue the momentum, as they have more than enough quality to challenge at the business end of the competition. Stade Francais have flattered to deceive in European competition over recent seasons, but they too seem to be coming to the boil at just the right time.
My other tips to have their name on the trophy come the summer are London Irish, and again, their performance in defeating the champions just proves the danger they possess. They remind me a lot of the Wasps team in my day, creeping up from nowhere and suddenly becoming the side to beat. Irish play an attractive game, and the coaching staff have them believing in themselves, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them crossing the channel and heading for the French capital, when it comes to the final.
This season is the 15th in the Heineken Cup, and having played in the competition for both Wasps and Glasgow, I have many special memories, especially being the London club's record try scorer in the tournament. For me, you still can't beat the feeling of your first game in the competition every season, as you realise the step up to almost international level rugby. Many players running out for their teams last weekend will have felt the same unbelievable experience of taking to the field and knowing that you are in the sort of environment where invariably nothing short of your best is good enough to succeed.
In terms of specific moments over the previous 14 seasons of Heineken Cup rugby, I naturally tend to focus on our success with Wasps in 2004, and particularly the semi final and final that year. I will never forget the atmosphere at Landsdowne Road for the semi final against Munster, it was truly the most sensational game of rugby. I wasn't playing but still travelled to watch the game, and remember about 40,000 Irish fans dwarfing about 1,000 Wasps fans, with swathes of red throughout the stadium. The clock said it was 80 minutes, but in all I think it was closer to 90, and full of the most intense clashes I've ever seen.
Thankfully, having seen off the Irish giants, we then dug in and nicked the final against Toulouse too - putting the seal on an unbelievable season.
It's memories such as those that make the Heineken Cup so special, and I'm sure there will be many more produced over the next few months - so sit back and enjoy the rugby."