Peter Bills: Heineken Cup exposes England's delusions

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The Independent Online

For the uninformed, those who deal in fantasy as opposed to reality, where now your iron-clad convictions as to the wondrous attractions of English rugby's Guinness Premiership?

Where now all those glib responses to those who had the courage and temerity to warn "The King has no clothes"? Where now your blinkered, foolish belief, doubtless fuelled by the propaganda issued from on high at Twickenham, that England's rugby and the English League was the best in the business?

Bunkum, complete bunkum, the lot of it, as a saga of defeats for English clubs in Europe this past weekend in Heineken Cup action, proves. Oh, if only you had opened your eyes to the real, devalued product before you, not despised and rubbished those who actually look beyond the confines of Kingsholm, The Stoop, Welford Road and the Recreation Ground to assess the game.

Why, there are those in England who hardly bother to watch the likes of Cardiff, Leinster, Toulouse, Perpignan, Clermont-Auvergne or Toulon (never mind the southern hemisphere sides) to learn about the game in a wider context. Their rugby world begins and ends in England. Poor people: how they have been deluded, made to look complete asses.

They are told, as by the RFU's Director of Elite Rugby Rob Andrew, that you can't play the game under these present rules. That one was swallowed hook, line and sinker by the suckers. Alas, Marseille on a November night, detonated an atomic explosion under such a theory as the All Blacks launched devastating counter-attacks (yes, ball in hand - can you blinkered ones actually believe it) and rained down five stunning tries on the French in their own backyard.

You were fed, too, the line that the Guinness Premiership was best and therefore the English teams were strong, filled with fine quality players. Er, take a look at the final Heineken Cup pools which were completed this past weekend for the truth.

Pool 1 winners - Munster

Pool 2 winners - Biarritz Olympique

Pool 3 winners - ASM Clermont Auvergne

Pool 4 winners - Stade Français Paris

Pool 5 winners - Toulouse

Pool 6 winners - Leinster

The two best Pool runners-up are:

Pool 2 runners- up - Ospreys (20 points)

Pool 1 runners-up - Northampton Saints (19 points)

For those of you so blinkered you're unsure where teams like Clermont-Auvergne and Ospreys actually come from, I’ll spell it out so you can understand. One English team has reached the last 8 in Europe's premier club tournament. Yes, that’s right, just one.

So what happened to cause this shattering of so many illusions? Quite simply, the insertion of an awful lot of heads up backsides. I'm told it's kind of difficult to see too much up there. Mind you, those engaged in the practice can still keep kidding themselves. After all, that's what they've always liked to do, isn't it?

One critical factor in this grand deception has been the misleading attendance figures. Rugby has become the hot ticket in town, the place to be and be seen to many. Doubtless, others have flocked there, sheep-like, for no better reason, believing it must be worthwhile. Alas, no-one has taken a cold, hard look at the product and pronounced it tripe, which it is much of the time.

If a side that doesn't play any rugby and risks nothing, like Saracens, can lead the Premiership table chiefly by defending and kicking penalty goals, then it ought to have been blindingly obvious to anyone that all was far from well. But no-one made the link. They didn't see it because they didn't want to.

Instead, it has taken exposure at the higher level of the Heineken Cup for all these chickens to come home to roost. Now, the evidence lies there before you, brutal in its clarity, not least in the high number of over-hyped, over paid young men who have been told too often they are "superstars", geniuses of the game. Alas, they started to believe it because most of them lived life in a bubble, unable to see their own inadequacies or the need to work hard to improve.

No longer will it be enough to condemn those who foretold this long ago as just "Kiwi lovers" or "southern hemisphere rugby groupies". For sure, all is very far from well in the southern hemisphere countries but at least they face reality when it hits them in the face. Few do in English rugby.

And if you have at last removed those blinkers from your eyes and taken out the plugs from your ears, here is another piece of advice which, if you've at last learned your lesson, you might care to consider. What has happened in the Heineken Cup this winter will have sent shudders down the spines of the England coaching management.

Suddenly, England v Wales, the opening game of the 6 Nations championship, looks a whole lot more difficult for Martin Johnson and his coaches, whatever side they field. If Welsh coach Warren Gatland picks the right team for Twickenham and if his players play what is in front of them, then Wales could cause huge problems.

The oldest, most traditional indicator in world rugby remains of huge value: how many players from the individual countries of the 6 Nations would get into a World XV? In England's case, the answer is none, zilch.

The seeds of that disastrous scenario have been long in germination. And the most destructive of all has been self delusion.

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