Though quarantine restrictions on foreign travellers have been lifted in France, we’re never quite sure – until players actually take to the field – that European games will go ahead.
It’s a sign of the times we’re living in and events of Round 2 – where postponed games were awarded 0-0 results – will no doubt cast a shadow over any potential winner. Did they deserve it? Would they have won if another game wasn’t postponed?
That said, we’re in for a really exciting round of Champions and Challenge Cup action should all fixtures go ahead, and tonight Harlequins have the chance to really cement their position as England’s leading challenger.
They’re off down the M4 to play a Cardiff side yet to pick up a point in the competition thus far. Cardiff were hampered by Covid-19 in the opening rounds and were reliant on semi-pro players and academy lads to field a team.
Now they’re back towards full strength but I just don’t see Quins being beaten. Harlequins of old might have lost the closer games they played, but now they have developed the knack for winning ugly – an important staple of any successful side.
Elsewhere, I think Exeter’s game against Glasgow could be an absolute corker. The Chiefs still aren’t quite back as a dominant force but they’re always tough to beat. They and Glasgow have had some good battles over the last few years and I expect this to be another one.
Sunday programme looks, quite simply, class. Should they go ahead, Leinster’s tie against Montpellier will test whether the French outfit have even a sniff at European success while Ulster’s trip to Northampton could be the open game we all want to see. Clermont and Bordeaux too should play scintillating rugby against Sale and Scarlets respectively. European rugby weekends are always great.
The underrated game of the weekend could be over in Galway where Connacht host Leicester. The Tigers finally lost for the first time this season last week and Connacht could be sensing an opportunity. I know their coach Andy Friend from my time with the Aussie Sevens set-up and he’s building something brilliant there.
Talking of building for the future, it’s been great to see Wales Women handing out professional contracts to 12 players this week. It’s an important step for the game and it’s reassuring to see investment go into such promising athletes.
Central contracts could be something the RFU finally looks at with the men’s game in England. They could use it to wrestle a little bit of control back from Premiership Rugby and while debt is cheap it would be a smart long-term investment.
If I were RFU chief Bill Sweeney, I’d be looking to swing the bat and see where I can take some control over the domestic game. Whether that be through direct interaction with the Premiership or through contracts, it would be a smart move to at least explore it.