Celtic coaches say flair will leave English teams playing catch-up
Magners League rugby is more varied than that in the Premiership, say coaches as season dawns
Wednesday 25 August 2010
Asked whether he considered Ringo Starr to be the best drummer in the world, John Lennon caustically replied: "He's not even the best drummer in the Beatles." Suddenly, big-time professional rugby in England is experiencing a Ringo moment of its own. Once celebrated as the strongest league in the world game, the Premiership now finds itself wondering whether it is the strongest league in the British Isles.
When Sale and Newcastle open the domestic programme at Edgeley Park a week on Friday, four Celtic sides will do likewise on behalf of the Magners League. As recently as three years ago, there would have been little dispute as to the main event of the evening. Now, it is perfectly possible, and perhaps necessary, to argue that Glasgow-Leinster or Ulster-Ospreys will pack the bigger punch.
Celtic teams have out-performed their Premiership rivals in each of the last two Heineken Cup tournaments – indeed, last season marked a new low point for English fortunes in the premier European competition – and to make matters worse, Cardiff Blues pinched the second-tier Challenge Cup title from under the noses of Toulon, thereby securing a final Heineken spot for Scarlets at the expense of Gloucester. These developments strengthened the Celts in their belief that the age of Premiership supremacy is over.
"Attitudes towards the Magners League have changed," said David Young, the Blues coach, at yesterday's tournament launch in Cardiff. "Not so long ago, many teams, particularly the powerhouse provinces from Ireland, used the competition to prepare for their Heineken Cup campaigns and rested their best players whenever it suited them. Over the last couple of seasons, the focus has shifted and the intensity of our league rugby has increased, partly because European qualification is now dependent on it. As a result, standards have been driven upwards. We've closed the gap on the English Premiership, definitely."
Another Welsh coach, Sean Holley of the reigning Celtic champions Ospreys, was equally bullish. "We've stepped up our act," he said. "The key is variety. When we take on English sides in Europe, they tend to be very physical and attritional, but much of a muchness in style. In our league, there is a greater range of style and approach."
According to Young and Holley, the Celtic teams still lag behind their English counterparts in terms of financial muscle. "If the English are spending £4m a year on wages, as their salary cap suggests, they're well ahead of us," remarked the Ospreys man. "People look at our side and say: 'Shane Williams, James Hook, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones... you're the biggest rock-star team in Britain.' But we didn't go out and buy these people, we nurtured them from young. And we're still doing it. We'll have a couple of youngsters coming through over the next couple of years who will be sensational."
The Magners League is not without its problems. No-one quite knows how the two Italian additions, Treviso and the newly-formed Aironi side, will shape up, although the concentration of Azzurri talent has left them stacked with international know-how. There are also continuing concerns over the crowds, or lack of them, in Scotland. Edinburgh will once again play at Murrayfield, a 67,000-capacity stadium that is about 65,000 too big, while Glasgow managed a 26 per cent increase in their average gate last season without anyone noticing.
But with 85 per cent of fixtures attracting live television coverage, the tournament's profile continues to grow. English club rugby has some work to do.
A league apart...
2 Magners League sides reached the semi-finals of the Heineken Cup last season – Leinster lost 26-16 to Toulouse, Munster lost 18-7 to Biarritz
5 of the six Premiership clubs in the Heineken Cup failed to get past the Group Stage last season
12 the number of matches won by Magners League sides against Premiership teams in the Heineken Cup last season out of 21 games. There were also seven defeats and two draws
33-19 The emphatic score by which Munster beat Northampton in their Heineken Cup quarter-final last season
filmFilm producers sue Warner Bros for $75m over Hobbit films
sportNapoli 2 Arsenal 0: Gunners must now face either Real Madrid, PSG, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid or Barcelona in knock-out stages
Swedish stars ask fans for £195 pledges on crowd-funding website
voicesJust when you thought you could find a man, get married, and have a baby by the age of 35... it turns out you’re too late, says Grace Dent
musicAs Mariah Carey and Noddy Holder rake in the royalties from their classics, why there hasn't been a decent festive hit for 20 years?
theatreAuthor Daniel Rosenthal recalls the mishaps that almost brought the curtain down on the likes of John Gielgud and Diana Rigg
lifeAs the Royal Mail plans to phase out deliveries on two wheels, it's no wonder posties are in a spin
musicThe 21-year-old beat Ella Eyre and Chlöe Howl to win the honour
lifeFull of the joys and want to help your fellow man? December isn't the time to do it
techLuke Blackall reports on precision engineered prams and babygros that monitor your child 24-7
World Cup 2014: Football Manager developers predict the team of the tournament - but which England player makes it into the XI?
Roy Keane omits Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs from 'greatest' Manchester United team
Man cycles down water slide in incredible stunt video
Napoli 2 Arsenal 0 match report: Nightmare in Naples leaves Arsenal to battle giants
Transfer news: Wayne Rooney sparks Manchester United exit rumours after rejecting new contract talks - reports
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 John McAfee's $100 'anti-NSA' device: 'this is coming and cannot be stopped'
- 3 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 4 Is Facebook making us forget? Study shows that taking pictures ruin memories
- 5 Australia incest case: Filthy and severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding