Heineken Cup Pool 2

Xavier Rush - enormous value for Cardiff over the years

Group 2 Preview

Cardiff are a team with something of an amorphous personality. It’s not that they’re schizophrenic – nothing as severe or interesting as that. It’s just that, having been under the gruff management of Dai Young for almost a decade [2002-2011], they’re an outfit that has been moulded in his image.

Furthermore, last season saw the passing of the torch from the man who epitomised their on-pitch effort – 99-times capped Martyn Williams – to Sam the Eagle, Wales’ new captain. Williams is still part of the playing squad at the Blues, but he’s no longer the figurehead.

Cardiff are currently fourth in the Rabo Direct Pro 12, and have been operating reasonably successfully while missing some of the biggest names of the highly commendable Welsh World Cup effort. The aforementioned Eagle Sam is one, as is big bopper non pareil Jamie Roberts; world class loosehead Gethin Jenkins will also be welcomed back with open arms, having missed a huge amount of rugby through injury.

Cardiff have been exceptionally well-served over the last number of years by their Kiwi imports – the talismanic Xavier Rush especially so, but Ben Blair and Paul Tito have brought huge quality, consistency and experience to the team. However, recent performances have indicated that these three aren’t quite the force that they were in years gone by, and the returning Welsh internationals will carry more of the burden this time around.

Racing Metro’s games on Setanta are always adorned with the comments of former All Black Simon Mannix. Mannix is assistant to world-weary Pierre Berbizier, a man who has seen and done it all in world rugby, and generally looks pretty taciturn whether his side are taking a shellacking or handing out a thumping. In contrast, Mannix is all action, from his Shane Warne barnet to his antipodean bleating.

Whatever it is about either his voice or his coaching style, he always seems to hover around the halfway line and get picked up loud and clear by one of the sideline microphones.

Racing are only fifth in the Top 14 at the moment, although they did just get past seventh-placed Brive. They’re an efficient, even dull team – certainly a team a long way removed from the fashionable Franck Mesnel-led Racing of the late-80s and early 90s, the outfit that launched the Eden Park clothiers.

Edinburgh are currently a lowly tenth in the Rabo Direct Pro 12, with just two wins from their seven games to date. Does anybody want to read about Edinburgh? Really? Can’t I just say that they’re a bit sh*t and move on to London Irish?

Michael Bradley hasn’t had the most successful of starts to his coaching career in Scotland, but it’s hardly surprising. With the international members of his squad away at the World Cup, he has had a fairly shoddy hand to play from; almost as importantly, it must be an absolute nightmare to play in front of an enormous empty Murrayfield week-in, week-out. While the Edinburgh alickadoos have made a few efforts to bring the crowds closer to the pitch, the lack of support the team generates in what is a wealthy city is a crying shame.

It’s really difficult to get too excited about Edinburgh. Tim Visser is a quality, quality finisher who should bring an awful lot to Scotland when he qualified next year, and there’s a spattering of good players in Ross Rennie, Greig Laidlaw, Chris Patterson and Ross Ford. However, the Mole’s personal favourite would have to be grumpy prop Alan Jacobsen, the 60-times capped Scottish loosehead. Jacobsen has been good value for Edinburgh over his career: 123 games, 11 tries and 7 yellow cards. You can tell that he’s a man who loves a deep-fried everything as well.

London Irish would for many years have been the default English team of many Irish rugby supporters, for the most obvious of reasons. It didn’t mean that you necessarily kept up with English league rugby, but if you heard people discussing it, you’d ask after London Irish’s result. This was before the internet of course, when people used to actually talk to one another.

That’s all changed [not the internet part, fortunately. The Mole isn’t big on carrying a printing press round with him, unless he could get one of those rolling one-sheeters that they used in The Village in Patrick McGoohan’s classic 1960s series, The Prisoner. I digress.]

The Not-Nots have become steadily more derided in Ireland as European competition has made them more familiar. They play an ugly-as-sin brand of rugby, field some of the dirtiest players in the league – step forward into the dock once again, Mr Armitage – and have very little to do with being Irish other than using the proud history of the club as a marketing ploy. There are far more Irish players at Exeter and Sale, for example, and Exeter isn’t exactly an emigré hotbed for thirsty Micks.

All right, of course it’s ridiculous to get up on my hind legs about this one: what are they supposed to do, change the name of a long-established club because professionalism has taken it a slightly different route than it went during the amateur days? Of course not, but they could stop dragging the most hackneyed cliches of ‘Oirishness’ out every weekend for the ‘match-day experience’ in order to boost sales of filthy pints in plastic beakers.

Good to see that Blange the Younger is included in their HEC squad though. I’ll put aside my distaste for the Not-Nots if he takes the pitch in any games. Only for as long as he’s on the park, though!

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