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Eric Miller: Level playing field is great feature of cup

LEINSTER'S draw with Montpellier only served to highlight the narrow margins that exist in the Heineken Cup, especially in the pool stages, where it could be argued that the tournament supersedes even football's much heralded Champions League.

The fact that nearly every group game is impossible to call is fast making the competition a very competitive product.

Meanwhile, the PRO12, the English Premiership and France's Super 14 have never been on a more equal footing in terms of standards and, based on last week's results, it could be argued that the PRO12 is growing at a faster rate than the other two domestic leagues, but let's not get too carried away yet.

I certainly think the variety of rugby played in the PRO12 surpasses its brethren, as the other two look a lot more attritional, particularly the French game, which may surprise a few.

We really only get to see the best of the French sides in the Heineken Cup, where they seem happy to cut loose more often.

In domestic games, French sides generally take a more guarded approach, as their players know each other so well. As a result, their teams seem to pride themselves on machismo more than anything.

For Leinster, the recent success of the Celtic nations only serves to put an even sharper focus on this weekend's opponents, Glasgow. The Scots will be buoyed up following their last-gasp win at home to Bath last weekend.

And their narrow league win over Leinster earlier in the season will help them travel without fear.

Such a situation further highlights the level playing field experienced by most teams in the cup at this early stage, with the champions under pressure on their home patch despite a hard-earned draw in France.

It's not surprising that Martin Johnson decided to jump before he was pushed.

Having played with him at Leicester for four seasons, he is a man of immense pride.

Upon retiring after a glittering playing career, he went straight into one of the most coveted national jobs around.

I do not care who you are, life eventually trips you up somewhere down the line.

After many years of success, one now feels that Johnno faces the greatest challenge of his career.

His team was built around his uncompromising approach, which sometimes pushed his players over the edge.

But he cannot take responsibility for all his players' actions, and, after the way the English RFU treated Mike Tindall, he probably suspected certain players and coaches were going to be tarnished with the same brush.

I have huge respect for the guy, but he will have to learn to adapt his approach to bounce back.


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