Power Ranking Europe's Top 10 Clubs
While the political salvos continue to be launched back and forth across European rugby’s administrative battlefields, this year’s competitions get under way with no one sure what, if any, format we’ll see these sides compete in next season.
On the field, the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup will show us who could stake their claim to what could be the last European trophy under its current guise.
Here’s where they stand before the first bell rings.
10. (Last Week 7) Ospreys, PRO12
Defeat for the Lions-laden Ospreys was not on the menu on Friday night, but that’s what Ulster served up at Ravenhill. Paddy Jackson outkicked Dan Biggar to inflict an 18-12 defeat.
With five members of Warren Gatland’s victorious Lions squad in their pack, the Ospreys should be doing better than this.
They’ll have to with Leinster visiting Swansea this weekend before a trip to Northampton in a fiery start to their Pool 1 Heineken Cup campaign.
9. (10) Glasgow, PRO12
Is it time to take Glasgow seriously? With a visit to Toulon in the offing, the answer is probably not, but in domestic competition they stand with Saracens as the only sides to have won all before them so far this campaign.
They got their fifth straight win away to the Scarlets at the weekend, with prop Ryan Grant and lock Tim Swinson scoring first half tries.
Duncan Weir converted them both and added a penalty to reduce the value of Rhys Priestland’s four penalties for the Welshmen to nothing more than a losing bonus point.
8. (New Entry) Munster, PRO12
Give or take one or two, Munster and Leinster had all their big names on parade in this clash between Ireland’s top two provinces.
That means this game had serious weighting when it comes to these power rankings, and it means the men from Limerick, who came out on top with a 19-15 win, make their entry onto this list.
Leinster’s back line carried serious threat even without Brian O’Driscoll, with the likes of Gordon D’Arcy, Ian Madigan, Lote Tuqiri and Rob Kearney all starting, but they didn’t cross Munster’s whitewash.
Keith Earls scored for the home side, and Ian Keatley’s boot claimed the 14 other points as well as providing an inch-perfect cross-field kick to set Earls up.
A Munsterman in the No. 10 shirt controlling a game. Sound familiar?
7. (6) Northampton, Premiership
After a draw that will have felt like a defeat, Jim Mallinder’s men need to pick themselves up and dust themselves down before European warfare commences.
The Saints face French champions Castres away in their opening Heineken Cup pool game and host the Ospreys in round 2.
They have risen to the occasion more than once before in Europe and have the quality to do it again.
6. (2) Stade Francais, Top 14
The Parisians sunk to fourth place in the league following their defeat to Toulouse, which will be a sobering reminder that, sometimes, gritting it out will only get you so far.
Can they bounce back with two weeks to focus on Europe? Slumming it in the backwaters of the Amlin Challenge Cup is hardly going to help them keep up with the powerhouses slugging it out with each other in the deep end of the Heineken Cup.
Nevertheless, facing Portuguese minnows Lusitanos XV and Italians I Cavalieri Prato on consecutive weeks will give them ample opportunity to sharpen their attacking repertoire.
5. (New Entry) Montpellier, Top 14
Another impressive bonus point win from Montpellier against the Oyonnax upstarts who accounted for the European champions last week.
Boss Fabien Galthie must be feeling like the cat who got the cream as a former scrum-half who now has two of the league’s best No. 9s to choose from.
Jonathan Pellissie has been in scintillating form, but last weekend it was the turn of Benoit Paillaugue to impress with a 20-point haul including a try, six conversions and a penalty.
A trip to Treviso this weekend should get their Heineken Cup campaign off to a flyer.
4. (4) Leicester, Premiership
The Tigers have an ingrained ability to find their way out of a fix, and they did so at home to Midlands rivals Northampton.
At 19-9 down in the final 10 minutes it looked as though the Saints were heading for their first win at Welford Road since 2007.
But three points from Toby Flood followed by his conversion of Ed Slater’s 75th-minute try leveled proceedings. No question who was happier with the two points.
3. (5) Toulouse, Top 14
A hat-trick from Yoann Huget ensured Toulouse a confidence-boosting win over top four rivals Stade Francais.
A four-try performance brought Guy Noves’ men a bonus-point win that puts them level at the top of the table and sends an ominous message out across the Continent as we head into the Heineken Cup.
Huget’s treble was supplemented by Hosea Gear’s score that outlines the firepower carried by the French giants.
2. (4) Toulon, Top 14
Jonny Wilkinson found himself warming the bench while the European champions earned a hard-fought win over Clermont. In a re-run of last season’s Heineken Cup final.
Rather than the Englishman’s metronomic boot, it was the shoe leather of his Aussie colleague Matt Giteau that Toulon had to thank, the former Brumbie knocking over 20 points in a 25-19 win.
Maxime Mermoz scored Toulon's only try with Damien Chouly crossing for Clermont, who enter the two-week domestic break outside the top four.
1. (1) Saracens, Premiership
Saracens made it five wins from five outings in the league with a 19-12 victory over Wasps to claim their second London scalp in seven days.
Alex Goode nudged them ahead before Will Fraser scored their only try, with England man Owen Farrell rising from the bench to add three penalties and the conversion for Fraser’s try.
Chris Bell got a brace for the visitors.