Rugby Union: Heineken Refreshes Our Parts; European Cup Matches Super 12, Declares Jenkins
Byline: Simon Thomas
GARETH JENKINS believes the Heineken Cup is now on a par with the southern hemisphere's Super 12 competition.
Europe's elite event gets under way for the ninth time this evening, with Jenkins' Scarlets entertaining Northampton, and the Celtic Warriors at home to Calvisano.
There are six more group games tomorrow and a further four on Sunday in what looks set to be a top weekend of rugby action.
Jenkins believes Heineken will refresh the rugby parts like never before this season, with the added spice of England having just won the World Cup.
'It goes without saying that it makes it the biggest year the European Cup will have experienced,' he said.
'The best team in the world is from the northern hemisphere now and the players that played for that world championship team are actually involved in this tournament.
'It can't be better. In fact, I think this event is starting to take the same stature in competitive terms as the Super 12.
'When you look at the success of France, Ireland, Wales, along with England, in the World Cup, it does suggest that we have got equal playing abilities to the south.
'We are very excited by the prospect of the Heineken Cup. It raises everyone's expectations of looking at quality rugby. That is what we want in Wales.
'We want the public to feel there is a product out there that's really worth getting behind. And surely this is the season that it's got its best product.'
This was a point echoed by Scarlets chief executive Stuart Gallacher, who is one of two Welsh representatives on the ERC board of directors, along with David Moffett.
'There are something like 200 international players coming back from the World Cup to play in this Heineken Cup,' he said.
'That's a big statement to make.
'Obviously it is the highest-profile tournament around.
'It's grown every year and is a huge competition now.
'I am particularly excited about it and I can't wait to get going.'
Gallacher says the status of the tournament has been reflected in ticket sales for tonight's Pool 4 clash with former champions Northampton at Stradey Park. …