What with the World Cup being so all-encompassing, it hasn’t been the easiest to find the time to follow the less glamorous domestic leagues. But now that the New Zealand adventure is over for once and for all, it’s a case of ‘back to the day job’ for the northern hemisphere players. In the meantime, the team domestiques have got the show on the road in the big boys’ absence. Here’s a quick refresher on what’s been going on.
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What’s happened so far? Well, it’s got a new name for a start, so those wishing to demean it will have to stop calling it the Cider Cup and find a new nickname. Six rounds of games have been played.
Looking good: Ospreys are the pick of the bunch, with a surprising six from six record. Having jettisoned a number of underperforming, highly paid galacticos (sayanora, Jerry Collins!), the team is being rebuilt around home grown players. Justin Tipuric and Dan Biggar have been to the fore. Leinster and Munster are ticking over nicely with four wins apiece, although both have lost once at home. Treviso are comfortably halfway up the log, with two wins on the road, including a notable victory at Ravenhill.
Looking grim: Ulster have lost three in a row, and can’t get their talented young backs enough ball. Aironi find themselves in a familiar position, propping up the table.
Making a name for themselves: Peter O’Mahony has captained the Munster team while Paulie’s been down under, and has already been compared to, erm, Richie McCaw by a typically feverish Hugh Farrelly, though whether he was wearing his matching ‘I Heart Munster’ cufflinks, tie and socks at the time of going to press remains unclear. Nonetheless, O’Mahony could be starting some big games this year, and is one to keep an eye on. Ian Madigan’s running game and eye for the tryline have impressed at Leinster.
Coming up: the tournament’s tri-annual showpiece, where Leinster and Munster collide, is on October 4.
What’s happened so far? Six rounds of games have been played, with an unknown, but high, number of defenders having been run into by ball-carrying Samoans – Oooooohhhh!
Looking good: Conor O’Shea’s Harlequins have won all six games and look to have taken the step up from last season that so many expected. Relatively unaffected by the World Cup, they had the princely Nick Evans all to themselves, and have made hay while the grounds are still hard.
Looking grim: What on earth are Leicester doing second from bottom? In truth they’re missing a lot of key players, and will improve once the likes of Castro, Cole, Flood, Murphy and the Samoan harbour-jumper
are back in the side.
Making a name for themselves: Any of the young whippersnappers in the Quins team. Their terrific captain Chris Robshaw continues to make a name for himself, and show the English selectors what they missed out on.
Coming up: Andy Powell and Tony Buckley will be debuting for Sale shortly. They’re third currently, can it continue?
What’s happened so far? They’ve been busy, playing eight rounds of games so far.
Looking good: Clermont Auvergne and Castres are top of the bus at the moment. Clermont routed Perpignan 39-3 at the weekend, with Nathan Hines getting his first try for his new employers. Toulouse and Toulon have also had positive starts to the season.
Looking grim: It wasn’t Perpignan’s first thrashing: they were whipped 38-0 by Toulon the previous weekend. More concerning still is Biarritz’ position right at the bottom. Dull at the best of times, they have been positively embarrassing without Yachvili, Traille and Harinordoquy to get them out of trouble.
Making a name for themselves: Luke McAllister has been winning rave reviews having settled quickly into life in Toulouse. Le Rouge et Noirs have recruited well, and will be challenging, as ever, for silverware on all fronts this year.
Coming up: Toulouse v Stade Francais, one of the most glamorous match-ups in Europe, is the pick of the bunch this weekend.