Peter Bills: Heineken Cup following predictable path

There may have been exciting individual matches and for sure there was no lack of courage and commitment.

But with only two rounds played in this season’s Heineken Cup, it is already easy to pick four of the six automatic qualifiers for the quarter finals next April. This is not necessarily a good augury.



Already, Leicester, Toulouse, Biarritz and Munster are taking control of their respective pools. Only Pools 1 and 2 still seem comparatively open, albeit not for Edinburgh in Pool 1 or Saracens in Pool 2, both of whom have lost their opening two fixtures and are in effect already out of the running.



Any one of Northampton, Castres or Cardiff could yet win Pool 1; likewise, one of Leinster, Clermont or possibly Racing Metro could triumph in Pool 2. But in the remaining four pools, decisive strides have already been made by the traditional powerhouse clubs of Europe.



Biarritz, already three points clear in Pool 4, now play the Italian club Aironi twice in December. By the end of the year, they should have 19 points with another home game still left, giving them a clear sight of an automatic place in the last eight. Likewise, Toulouse in Pool 6 and Leicester in Pool 5 both of whom are already dominating their rivals.



Pool 3 may appear tighter, but I find it impossible to believe Munster will not emerge.



Beyond dispute, the two most impressive wins of last weekend were Leicester’s 46-10 romp against the Scarlets and Munster’s 45-18 flogging of Toulon. ‘Asphyxiated’, Toulon coach Philippe Saint-Andre said of his team. Good word that to describe what Munster do to their opponents.



This may be great news for the followers of Leicester, Toulouse, Biarritz and Munster. But it is surely less than ideal for European rugby in a wider sense.



Once again, the strong teams are emerging and the wannabes struggling. We looked and hoped that teams like the Ospreys, Saracens, Cardiff, London Irish and Ulster might step up a notch this season. Hopes had been high that one or two of that group could offer a fresh, serious challenge, but all have lost games they would have hoped to win.



This is disappointing for the whole of European rugby. Saracens and Ulster in particular have recruited heavily from overseas – in Saracens’ case, a positive tsunami of South Africans has swept into the place. Yet two defeats from their first two matches suggests all that money has yet to bear fruit in the premier European club/provincial competition. Watford South Africa hardly yet looks a formidable opponent.



Ulster, too, have caught the South African bug, bringing in Johann Muller, Ruan Pienaar, BJ Botha, Robbie Diack and Pedrie Wannenburg. Yet the way they collapsed to a 35-15 defeat at Biarritz on Sunday, represented a crushing setback for their hopes in Europe this season.



It may appear ridiculously early in the campaign to be drawing such conclusions. But the crucial factor with the Heineken Cup is that teams must hit the ground running. Lose a close game, especially if you are the home team as Bath were in their 11-12 loss to Biarritz on the opening weekend, and you are then on the back foot, condemned to hope your conquerors slip up. Bath are a good example – even after just two matches, their destiny is not in their own hands.



To see the great European clubs emerging again does not mean the standard at the very top is poor. It suggests instead that, for all the money many of the ambitious other clubs are splashing around, they are still well short of the quality and cohesion they undoubtedly require to prosper in this tournament.



Not that that will bother the likes of Toulouse, Leicester, Munster and Biarritz. If there is another final involving any of that quartet, we can be certain it won’t lack for drama or excitement.

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
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones