The european question: Three voices
Sixteen months after the Anglo-French served notice to quit, how do you feel now about the future of Europe?Is the new scrum having an appreciable difference?Will clubs be more motivated by the threat to the competition's future or will it be business as usual?I feel incredibly positive that a solution will be found and that we'll have European rugby to look forward to next season.
I feel the future of the European Cup as we know it is on dodgy ground. Certainly here in France they are adamant that any new competition will not be run by ERC, and will be merit-based. I think that a solution will be found but there might be a season or two without European competition before compromise is agreed.It's hard to say but I hope and have trust in the people involved at the highest level to get it right. A competition with all the top clubs is too good to lose – it would be madness to let that happen.It's a bit early to say – it's still a bit messy and I don't think we've good enough stats yet to see its impact. It doesn't feel like a huge difference though the impact clearly is less at the engagement. But why are we still getting crooked feeds? I accept the argument that physics made it hard to implement the law here in recent years but not now. Yes, definitely but there's still work to do. We've had eight league games under it and there are fewer collapses. I feel weaker scrums now have fewer places to hide but teams have still not become consistent enough in applying some of the trigger points for refs (straight put-in and early push) and when they start to do that the scrum will still be a fair contest but with fewer infringements. Not appreciably, at least not yet, but I've seen enough signs that it will make a difference. I believe we're seeing fewer collapses which is good but it's still finding its feet I think. Referees are still getting to grips on how to manage it and control the hit.
Business as usual and again there will be a powerful French presence. I think Clermont have been the best team in Europe for the last few seasons without actually winning it, and the depth that Toulon have in their squad is incredible. When you think they can choose between the likes of Drew Mitchell, David Smith and Bryan Habana on the wing, it's incredible.
For the Celtic teams it's massively important that they demonstrate their quality and value to the tournament. The Irish always have but if the Scots and Italians in particular had some scalps then that would be positive. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that the French will be as committed to throw everything at the Heineken this season and the uncertainty over its future only adds to their belief that if you win the Top 14 you are the best team in Europe, regardless of who won the Heineken.Motivation will be all about the first weekend and then getting out of the pool. I believe we'll see some surprises this season in one-off contests where lots of teams are capable of causing an upset. As for favourites, I think Leinster and Clermont will be up there again – they both have that big-match expertise you need in this tournament.
– Brendan Fanning