BATH, ENGLAND – Today introduces a weekly column covering all Aviva Premiership Talking Points. As a bonus, we’ll update you on the Heineken Cup situation. But let’s start with the Aviva.
1) Bath Looking Good Early
After two weeks, Bath are sitting pretty on two wins, with one coming in the 100 Year War against a depleted Leicester side. Their win against Newcastle was impressive, and George Ford looks like he is in the process of justifying all the hype. Media outlets such as ESPNScrum.com are suggesting that the 21-year-old England Saxon may be in the senior international frame come the Autumn Tests, particularly if Toby Flood fails to recover from a nasty head injury. A man of the match display against the reigning champions can’t have hurt his credentials.
2) George North moves West
George North has played the full 80 minutes in both the Saints’ first two matches, and though he has not yet crossed the whitewash, the Saints have looked impressive in demolishing the Chiefs and squeaking past Quins. It is only a matter of time before the big winger gets going, and once he does, Northampton looks to have a fearsome offensive attack that will put fear into Premiership sides all season long.
3) Wasps in Agony
What idiot was it that tipped Wasps to finish sixth? Oh, that’s right, me. The unlucky London side has dropped both of their first games in agonizing fashion, losing by a point in the opener of the Twickenham double-header before finishing four points shy of victory against Exeter last weekend. With Tom Varndell out for an extended period with a biceps injury, depth will be a factor moving forward. Despite Stephen Jones’ problems last year, the Wasps did remain remarkably healthy for most of the campaign. If their injury luck doesn’t hold out this year, Dai Young may face problems sooner rather than later. Certainly, losing two matches by a combined total of five points shouldn’t have anybody reaching for the panic alarm, but it would be far better to have points in hand moving forward.
4) Heineken Cup Confusion
Another day, another conflicting report from all six unions involved in negotiations for whatever next term’s European competition will be. Every Northern Hemisphere supporter (and probably a few Southern Hemisphere fans looking to fill the months after the Rugby Championship) is holding their breath with the news that the PRL (Premiership Rugby) is absolutely refusing to concede any ground, and has entered into an agreement with the Top 14 for a new Anglo-French competition. However, RFU head Ian Ritchie emphasized this morning his preference that any new competition should embrace “all of Europe,” and ERC chief executive Derek McGrath claims that differences between the unions are “not insurmountable.”
Confused? So are we. Any tournament with as many moving parts and with as many conflicting monetary interests as the Heineken Cup will always have some difficulties come contract time. However, as many have pointed out, the fact that we are well into the new European club season with no idea of what the next season will see in terms of international competition is a farce. Many worried when rugby union turned professional that unseemly money grabs at the expense of the game would become the norm. It is now to be feared that those worries were well-founded. The impetus for PRL’s initial reluctance to continue with the Heineken Cup as currently modeled has a few roots, including understandable frustration about the guaranteed places of Pro12 sides.
However, the second motivator is far less sympathetic. Having sold the rights to European Matches to BT Sport without ERC sanction, PRL has backed English clubs into a corner without an exit. They are fortunate indeed that the French are willing to dive over a cliff into this new competition out of similar financial motive; otherwise English club rugby would be in an awkward spot indeed. Instead, Leinster admitted this week that they would have to look into joining the proposed Anglo-French competition should it move forward, giving the bad faith negotiators an even more powerful position. While we hold out hope that the coming weeks will bring a conclusive resolution, the likelihood of that outcome is low indeed. Rugby supporters around the world deserve better.
That’s it for now… feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter @: RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann and Declan Yeats, respectively.