French and Irish catch the eye in Europe while the Welsh lose their way

In this column I try to keep off politics, including rugby politics, which are even more tedious than the Westminster variety. But occasionally something happens that enables us to take a sideways look at our national characteristics. One such happening is the Heineken European Cup.

Last Friday evening I was pleasantly surprised to discover that British Eurosport was showing the whole of the Newport v Toulouse match. As the proceedings began at a quarter to 10, I had assumed that only highlights would be on display. I was even more surprised by the zeal of the commentators on behalf of Newport.

One of them, admittedly, was Rupert Moon, an Englishman who had played scrum-half for Llanelli for many years and won some caps for Wales. One might have expected the old prejudice of the West Wales clubs against those of the East to manifest itself in some way.

Not a bit of it. All good men (and no doubt women too) should, we were given to understand, be cheering on the East Wales side against the French invaders. Naturally, it was a long shot. Newport were the outsiders. There was no doubt about that. All the more reason, then, to get behind the lads. For whole chunks of the first half, it looked as if they might pull it off. But no. Skill, pace and, it must be said, youth all told in the end. What a pity it was.

I am, I hope, as patriotic a Welshman as you could hope to find. I will do anything for my native land except live there. But I felt quite unable to join in the fervour generated by the Eurosport commentators.

One reason, no doubt, was that which I have given already: the bias of the West against the East. Another was that I had spent many happy weeks in Toulouse but not a single day, happy or otherwise, in Newport. There we are.

On the Saturday afternoon the BBC commentators were less obviously banging the drum. Perhaps they thought an understrength and hastily rearranged Bristol had no chance whatever of defeating a Montferrand team that including such luminaries of French rugby as Tony Marsh, David Bory, Gerald Merceron and Olivier Magne. Indeed, both Jonathan Davies and the half-time expert, Jeremy Guscott, left no doubt in the viewers' minds that they thought that, in the end, class would tell; just as it had on the previous evening with Toulouse. As things turned out, Bristol tackled everything that moved; Montferrand dropped the ball or passed it towards either the touchline or the ground; and on the day Felipe Contepomi showed himself to be a more accomplished outside-half and kicker than Merceron.

I missed Biarritz v Northampton and Béziers v Neath (the latter because it was not being shown on any of the channels that I can receive). Both the visiting sides, by all accounts, put up a convincing show and could have won their matches with a bit of luck on their side.

Together with the French clubs, the successes of the competition so far have been the Irish provincial sides. But we – commentators on television, correspondents in the press and supporters on the touchline or in the stand – regard them quite differently.

Nor do we draw a distinction between, on the one hand, Ulster from the United Kingdom and, on the other, Munster and Leinster from the Republic of Ireland. We do not look on them as foreigners as we do the French. If the final, to be held in Dublin, turns out to be between, say – this is not a prediction but an example – Leinster and Toulouse, there is little doubt about where we shall be expected to direct our support. I shall remain neutral, with a sneaking sympathy for Toulouse. Having watched Leinster's annihilation of Swansea on Saturday, I think they may still be a reasonable bet. But I still do not know whether they put up 50 points because they were very good or because Swansea were very bad. You would never have thought that, in bygone days, they had beaten both Australia and New Zealand. At half-time a vaguely familiar face, announced as Swansea's director of rugby and addressed as "Richard'' appeared on our screens. It was Richard Moriarty. I shall say no more.

Altogether the Welsh clubs have been having a dreadful time. While Neath and Llanelli have been unlucky the other three clubs have been unable to do anything right. There is one tiny morsel of hope. In recent Heineken competitions, the Welsh clubs such as Cardiff and Swansea have performed promisingly in the early stages, only to fall away badly towards the end, leaving only Llanelli to carry on the fight. They are still in with a chance, and so are Neath. But I would not put any money on either of them.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate