Byline: SHANE McGRATH
ON THE eve of his 100th Heineken Cup appearance, Ronan O'Gara has claimed the tournament is 'nowhere near' the standard of Test rugby.
The veteran Munster fly-half praised a competition 'that has given me every possible emotion' but said part of the Heineken Cup's charm is in the fact that it still lags behind Test rugby for speed and intensity.
Teams comprising elite Test players and callow youths mean the possibility of mismatches, said O'Gara (right), and therein lies the real attraction of a competition which has exploded in popularity.
Despite this, he believes success in the Heineken Cup for the Irish provinces contributed to the Grand Slam of two years ago. 'The fascinating thing about the Heineken Cup is that it's a club competition, and people miss that point sometimes. It's nowhere near the standard of international rugby because you have some of the best players in your country on the team yet you have younger players who are trying to develop and wouldn't get on an international team. 'What is so good about the European Cup is the game that can be played, because you have more time on the ball, you have probably a second longer than you would in international rugby,' said O'Gara. Where Test teams are entirely made up of elite players, said O'Gara, 'at Heineken Cup level you have some really good players but then you have some players that are trying to get to that standard, so there are opportunities for mismatches. …