Tag Archive: Dai Young


By Laurie Fitzgerald

The new Aviva Premiership season got underway last weekend, as rugby fans across the country prepare for another epic and thrilling campaign ahead.

In terms of an introduction to the new season, there could hardly have been a better one; it may have been the first game of the season, but Harlequins and Wasps produced 80 minutes of entertainment that may not be bettered in the following 134 matches.

After enduring the season from hell last time out, Wasps looked to have shaken off the shackles that saw them almost go out of the Premiership and close to administration as their pace and precision tore apart the defending champions.     Continue reading

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By Laurie Fitzgerald

Wasps’ season suffered another setback at the weekend when they suffered a surprise 6-0 defeat at home to fellow strugglers Worcester.

That win for the Warriors took them above the Wycombe outfit, leaving the two-time Heineken Cup winners second from bottom in the Aviva Premiership.

Whilst they still have a 10-point cushion over bottom-placed Newcastle Falcons, it underlined the task facing Director of Rugby Dai Young.

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Heineken Cup Preview

By Laurie Fitzgerald

After the conclusion of the World Cup, rugby fans everywhere now have the perfect tonic arriving this weekend – the Heineken Cup.

European rugby’s premier club competition is now in its 17th season and has come such a long way since it began way back in 1995.

Every game is played with the intensity of a test match, and the best teams from the countries of the Six Nations battle over 79 brutal encounters.

Leinster‘s triumph last season showed just how tough it is to win the Heineken Cup, and the class as well as mental strength required to become the continent’s best side.

In the pool stages they had to overcome Saracens (now English champions) Racing Metro (who have finished in the top 2 in France the last two years) and Clermont Auvergne (the French champions at the time) to even qualify for the quarter-finals.

Then Josef Schmidt’s side had to beat then-English champions Leicester and defeat Toulouse, who have won more Heineken Cup’s than any other side, before producing one of the great comebacks to defeat Northampton at the Millennium stadium to clinch their second title in three campaigns.

The great thing about the pool stage is that unlike its football counterpart of the Champions League, it’s difficult to predict who will make it to the last eight – the difficulty of both the pool and knockout stages means it’s the equivalent of having two tough campaigns rolled into one.

With some enthralling pools and a line-up that looks stronger than ever, we preview all 24 teams and rate their chances of making it through to the quarter-finals:

Pool 1

Castres – Finished 3rd in the Top 14 last season and currently 2nd this campaign, they won’t be the pushover they have been in previous seasons. Other teams will struggle going to Stade Pierre-Antoine.

Munster – After a disappointing European campaign last season by their extremely high standards, the Irish giants may struggle to get out of a very tough pool. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the years, it’s to never write off Munster.

Northampton – Will be hoping to go one step better than last year when they pushed Leinster all the way in the final. Their pack is the best in Europe and now have the experience to go all the way.

Scarlets – Yes they are a young side, but when they play to their potential they are an exciting attacking outfit that can hurt any opposition. Trips to the likes of Franklins Gardens and Thomond Park may be a step too far though.

Pool Winners: Northampton

Pool 2

Cardiff Blues – Still coming to terms following the departure of Dai Young, the Blues may wish the HC wasn’t starting just yet. But with some World Cup heroes full of confidence, including the outstanding Sam Warburton, they will fancy their chances in a winnable pool.

Edinburgh – Often struggle in Europe and have yet to find any form in the Pro 12, but Michael Bradley’s side will feel they might not have a better chance to reach the last eight – if they can turn Murrayfield into a fortress.

London Irish – A hit and miss start to the Aviva Premiership despite being third, Irish know that with the attacking ability at their disposal, as well as previous HC wins over Leinster and Munster, they have the knowhow to do well. They just need to find that consistency.

Racing Metro – Often understated, but underestimate the Parisians at your peril. Full of French flair and having built a strong squad from the wealth of Jacky Lorenzetti, Racing could be the dark horses of this year’s competition.

Pool Winners: Racing Metro – London Irish to get one of best runners-up spots.

Pool 3

Bath – Sir Ian McGeechan‘s men have struggled for a cutting edge so far, and recent European campaigns have been a disappointment. Much will depend on new arrival Stephen Donald to settle quickly and provide the ammunition for a potentially explosive backline.

Glasgow – An impressive start to the Pro 12, but the Warriors look to be the weakest squad on paper in the pool. A trip to Firhill is never easy though, and if they can pull a big away performance out of the bag then a runner-up spot is not impossible.

Leinster – The defending champions couldn’t have asked for a much better draw. A pool that they are more than capable of winning and ensuring a home quarter-final in the process. Despite the loss of Brian O’Driscoll, they are the team to beat if another side wants to get their name on the trophy.

Montpellier – Last year’s surprise package in the Top 14, reaching the final and were minutes away from beating Toulouse. They have struggled this season though but could spring a surprise or two in the pool stage.

Pool winners: Leinster

Pool 4

Aironi – They have been the whipping boys in the Pro 12 and it looks like it could be the same again in a horrendous pool. A win has to be the aim, but the draw has not been kind to them one bit.

Clermont Auvergne – Immensely difficult in France and the last couple of years have seen them develop more of a toughness on their travels, they have all the makings of a squad to go far.

Leicester – A poor Premiership start in the absence of their World Cup stars, the Tigers are getting near to full-strength. They have the knowhow to go all the way and Welford Road remains one of the toughest places to go. But can they get the points on the road to qualify?

Ulster – Not many would have tipped them to make the quarters last season, but this is an underrated Ulster side. Ravenhill is a fortress and if they can pull a shock out of the bag, don’t rule the Ulstermen out of contention in arguably the toughest pool.

Pool Winners: Clermont, Leicester to get a best runners-up spot

Pool 5

Benetton Treviso – The Italians have been the surprise package of the Pro 12 this season and their improvement may be shown on the European stage. A trip to Veneto is no longer the foregone conclusion it used to be for most teams, and they will be confident of a good showing in this pool.

Biarritz – Not the team that they once were, but this is a group of players that always find a way of being there or thereabouts in the latter stages of the tournament. Their home form will intimidate anyone, but they are as unpredictable as any side; brilliant on their day, awful on another. If their complacency rears it’s ugly head then it may be the downfall of their pool favourites.

Ospreys – Big changes not only to their squad but also to their culture; fake tans have followed the likes of Gavin Henson and James Hook out of the door, and they now seem to be a more tight-knit squad under Scott Johnson. Top of the Pro 12, they are capable of progressing, but their long-term development means it may just be a year too soon for the new crop at the Liberty stadium.

Saracens – After conquering England, the next stage for Mark McCall’s men is Europe. Away trips won’t faze a side that’s won in Leicester, Northampton, Gloucester and Racing Metro in the last year. But three home fixtures at three different venues hardly allows them to build a fortress anywhere. Their seemingly unmatched determination to win though could be the difference in another tight pool.

Pool Winners: Saracens

Pool 6

Connacht – Debutants to the competition, the Irish province will be eager to finally take their chance to compete with the big boys. Seeing some of Europe’s heavyweights travel to Galway Sportsgrounds will be one of the stories of this year’s competition. However, they will struggle to compete against the more established trio in the pool.

Gloucester – Brilliant at home, poor away. It’s been a similar pattern over the past couple of years for the Cherry and Whites. Bryan Redpath’s men are capable of some wonderful running rugby and have an intensity in their game that makes them difficult to cope with. But they must resemble this form away from Kingsholm if they are to stand any chance of qualifying for the last eight.

Harlequins – Conor O’Shea’s team have been the standout side in Europe so far this season; ten wins out of ten in all competitions, including a perfect start to their first eight Aviva Premiership matches. They have found a consistency to match the squad’s potential and already have European success after last year’s Amlin Challenge Cup triumph. But competing on all fronts may be a step too far this season.

Toulouse – Save the best ’till last? Quite possibly. Having won the Heineken Cup four times, this squad is full of experience and class. Unplayable when on top of their game and a pack that can destroy even the biggest of opponents, they would be a strong bet for title number five.

Pool winners: Toulouse

Outright prediction: Very tough to call without knowing the structure of the quarter-finals as home advantage makes a huge difference, but with it being so tough to win back-to-back Heineken Cups, I think favourites Leinster may just fall short – meaning Toulouse could be set to be Kings of Europe yet again.

So what do you think? Who will win the Heineken Cup? Which teams do you think will do well this year? Leave a comment and let us know your views.

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