The Irish still love the Heineken (!) Cup

Hurray for the return of the Heinek- oops, sorry we can’t call it that any more, even if they are the only named sponsor to date. Well, hurray for the return of European rugby, which certainly needs a name that is less of a mouthful.

Brian O’Driscoll was recently asked that, given the hostility to the European Champions Cup in the Irish media, who describe it as a vehicle for French and English clubs to claw back ground they had lost in the Heineken Cup, was it the way to go?

“I am not sure that it favours France or England” he diplomatically replied. “It provides more of a level playing field. The Heineken Cup was good for Irish rugby and Ireland was good for the Heineken Cup, but I think it is hard to argue against the change.”

It is early days yet but there have been seven European Champions Cup fixtures pitting Premiership against Pro 12 sides. And the score in this little game within a game? Five to the Pro 12, two to the Premiership, with Munster leading the charge thanks to two wins out of two against English opposition.

The structure of the competition may have changed, but the desire of the Irish to beat the English has not gone out of fashion.

On the whole, the more concentrated nature of the tournament compared to the old Heineken Cup seems to have improved the quality of the rugby, but only slightly. Many of the games were tight affairs with plenty of good rugby on show. Whether it is significantly better, or more competitive, than the Heineken Cup was, will take a little longer to establish.

Mike Miles

Refund for North fine?

Premiership Rugby fined Northampton £60,000 for allowing George North to play for Wales outside the 2013 Autumn series window designated by the IRB

This season the USA/New Zealand Test takes place in Chicago outside the same window,yet Premiership Rugby has agreed to release USA players such as Samu Manoa of Northampton.

Perhaps they should offer to reimburse Saints for the North fine. I wouldn’t bet on it

Mike Miles

Once a Wasp, now a Sarrie?

There has been a lot of coverage of Wasps’ proposed move to Coventry, much  of it focusing on the potential effect on other West Midlands rugby clubs.

There is no doubt competition in the Midlands is going to be hard for a side which is leaving its already modest fan base two hours to the south.But what will be the reaction of those “London ” clubs they are leaving behind. Presumably the Premiership bosses must be hoping London Welsh stay up, or the traditional “London Double Header” start to the season disappears from their planning.

I fully expect Saracens to mount some over-the -top campaign or other to try and win over the disaffected fans Wasps will leave behind. When Sarries left Bramley Road 20 years ago to move first to Enfield,then to Watford, there was an almighty roar  from the faithful, but the decision to offend these men and their dogs looks quaint and endearing now when you survey their splendid new home at Allianz Park.

Mind you, Sarries’ balance sheet may not bear much in the way of scrutiny just yet…..

Mike Miles

Where are the French Fans?

It is virtually a given that French rugby teams do not travel well. Nonetheless,it still came as a surprise when Saracens announced on Wednesday that their first opponents in the new European Champions Cup on Saturday, Clermont – who were entitled to 20% of the tickets for the 10,000 capacity Allianz Stadium – had only sold 33 tickets to fans. That number would be exceeded by the French club’s official entourage.

Saracens’ comment via their website was “the lack of response is surprising.”

And not quite the brave new dawn the new  competition was hoping for……

Mike Miles


Franklins Gardens..a real rugby stadium

You can buy success but you cannot buy heart and soul. Franklin’s Gardens has always been a wonderful place to watch rugby. The trappings of professionalism, the big money, the importing of foreign talent. Be it George North from across the Welsh border, or the Pisi Brothers, Samoans via New Zealand, they have not frayed the umbilical cord that attaches the Saints players to the community. The bottom line matters but so too does the shirt.

Northampton Saints are probably unique among professional sports clubs in that they have made a profit every year since 2000.The ground has a capacity of 13,591 and is widely considered one of the best club stadiums in British rugby. Quite rightly in my opinion, even if a pint of Tetleys is a London-beating £5.00.

At the end of a week when Wasps announced a move a 100 miles away to Coventry, it is fitting to salute the Saints’ firm foundations. The Gardens, originally known as Melbourne Gardens, were created by John Collier, and after his death in 1886 they were bought by John Franklin, a local hotelier, who renamed them Franklin’s Gardens the following year. The Saints moved there in the late 1880’s.
During the 1990’s a raft of temporary stands increased the capacity to 10,000. Then the stadium underwent a complete re-build in the early 2000’s. The Tetley’s and South stands were opened formally by Ian McGeechan with the horseshoe stadium completed in the summer of 2002 with the building of the Church’s Stand.
The final part of the jigsaw is for a new North Stand, to replace the current Sturidge Pavilion. This would take the capacity up to 17,000.

Northampton have also shown how to get things right on the field. The defending champions sealed their place at the top of the Aviva Premiership with what proved to be a comfortable win over toothless Sale Sharks, who have not won at Franklin’s Gardens since May 2006, and showed no signs of doing so here. With Stephen Myler and Danny Cipriani competing to pull on the England No 10 shirt next month a battle of the fly-halves loomed, but it was Northampton’s American no 8, Samu Manoa, who grabbed the headlines with three of the Saints’ six tries. Sale did batter the home line a few times but they lacked the composure to keep the ball safe for long enough to seriously trouble the meanest defence in the league for the first hour. Ironically their solitary try was probably the best scored in the match.
Apparently, Sale’s Director of Rugby, Steve Diamond, left the ground early, and was “too angry” to attend the post-match inquest. You couldn’t blame him…

Mike Miles

Who loves the Play-Offs?

Tickets are just going on sale for the Premiership final next May. To get there of course clubs will have to negotiate the play-offs. People are still bitching about these – most recently Sarries’ chief executive Edward Griffiths

When the play-offs were introduced over a decade ago the only club to vote against them were Leicester. All the others were presumably keen to get their hands on the extra cash injection that these high-profile,high-attendance, games offered.

I have never understood why the league winners shouldn’t get a trophy,preferably presented on the last day of the regular season.Then,as now, when the play-offs are completed , the winning club gets the Premiership trophy  at Twickenham..Rugby League operates such a system and it seems to satisfy most parties.

Mike Miles