Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport All Hail the Heineken Cup

Magazine article The Spectator

Spectator Sport All Hail the Heineken Cup

Article excerpt

Ah, what joys, the first weekend of the mighty Heineken Cup.

How many sporting events are so closely identified with their sponsor that you can't imagine them being called anything else? Heineken has backed this since the first European competition in 1995, which is when rugby went professional. You can't imagine rugby without beer, though you have to in France, where they ban alcohol advertising at sporting events, so it's called the H Cup over the Channel. Mark you, you can't drink proper beer at the Stade de France anyway, just 0% rubbish. Or so it tastes.

Heineken is a Dutch lager, not a beer from a country noted for its rugby, like Kronenbourg, Guinness or London Pride. This must be the only connection the Dutch have with the sport. They are 47th in rugby's world rankings, just above Sri Lanka.

Judging by the first weekend, the semi-finalists should be Toulon, Quins and Saracens, and possibly Leinster.

As a much-put-upon Englishman, it was extremely cheering for me to see the Irish sides take some humbling.

Munster lost to Racing Metro, and swaggering Leinster, European champions in three of the last four years, were taken all the way by plucky Exeter, who were simply astounding.

Clermont Auvergne are in the group too, and the Frenchmen could make life very difficult for Leinster. Edinburgh were desperately poor against the Sarries, for whom I see De Kock, Brits, Smit, Du Plessis, Botha and Kruis all got a good run-out. There's clearly a good flavour of Bloemfontein down Watford way.

Besides the good folk of South Africa, it's Wigan's rugby league side who drive Saracens. Their first three tries were scored by Joel Tomkins, brother of Sam, who is still at Wigan and has just been named League's Man of Steel; Chris Ashton, once of Wigan, and Owen Farrell, son of Wigan titan Andy. …

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