Quins fly lonely flag as English clubs face more humiliation in Europe


It has not been a happy time for English clubs in Europe – in the last three Heineken Cup campaigns, the Premiership fraternity have filled only four of the 24 quarter-final places available – and if results go the wrong way this weekend, another humiliation will be on the cards.

As things stand, only Harlequins, the reigning national champions, can be completely confident of a place in the knockout stage, thanks largely to a friendly pool draw and the decline of a once great team in Biarritz.

At the halfway stage of the round-robin phase, 50 per cent of the English challenge is virtually in the past tense. Sale, whose perilous position at the bottom of the Premiership means they have more important things on their collective mind than a place in the last eight of Europe's elite tournament, are just about as dead as Monty Python's parrot after last weekend's defeat by Toulon, while Exeter's chances of progress depend on them ending Clermont Auvergne's epic run of home success in mid-January. The phrase "fat chance" springs to mind.

Something similar goes for Northampton, finalists two seasons ago. Comprehensively beaten in the East Midlands by Ulster last Friday night, they must win the return game in Belfast on Saturday to stand an earthly of maintaining their interest in the tournament beyond the final round of pool games. As Ravenhill remains one of the most forbidding venues in northern hemisphere rugby – its proximity to Dr Ian Paisley's Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church gives it a little added extra in the way of unbreachability – few Saints supporters will be travelling in hope.

Saracens, who completed the first tranche of pool games in excellent shape, are also vulnerable, all of a sudden. Even though they squeezed out a losing bonus point in Limerick at the weekend, another loss to Munster, by some distance their least favourite European opponents, at Vicarage Road in five days could leave them at serious risk from the Parisians of Racing Métro, whom they must visit next month.

Not even Leicester, two-time Heineken Cup champions, can approach the second half of the group stage with any certainty.

Their close shave against the Italians of Treviso two days ago makes this weekend's trip to the Veneto unusually itchy, and even if they return with a full five-point haul, their last two games will be very difficult indeed: a trip to Swansea to face an Ospreys side likely to be bolstered by returning front-line players currently missing through injury, followed by a home game against a Toulouse team of all the talents. That could easily turn out to be a fixture of the "win or bust" variety.

Tomorrow, the Premier Rugby chief executive, Mark McCafferty, and the Bath owner, Bruce Craig, will continue their discussions with the European Rugby Cup board – talks aimed at changing the format of the competition to make it "more meritocratic". Judging by the current standings, they should be careful what they wish for.


election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'