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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 8 October, 2002, 10:01 GMT 11:01 UK
In the shadow of the Heineken Cup

By Jonny Wilkinson
Newcastle captain and England fly-half

Here's a challenge for you: "Name five Parker Pen fixtures this weekend." Struggling? I thought you might be.

Pick up any newspaper and the Heineken Cup dominates all.

"Sour grapes," I hear you thinking. Well, not quite. Remember this: European competitions are based on past, not current form.

Leeds may not have come into the reckoning pre-season, but they sure as hell do now.

Likewise Wasps, who look a better side every time they take the field.

But it doesn't end there. Last year's Parker Pen runners-up, Pontypridd, defeated the previously unbeaten Connacht 40-0 in the Celtic League last weekend.

The victory put them top of the Celtic League's Pool B, ahead of Heineken Cup competitors Cardiff, Leinster, Newport and Glasgow.

And if you add sides such as Stade Francais and Castres into the melting pot, it seems a little odd that people keep referring to the competition as "second-tier".

With so many in-form sides involved, is it not time the media showed a little more respect for the tournament?

Across Britain and Ireland, there will be thousands of fans rooting for their teams this weekend. But the media coverage will remain scant, to say the least.

Not so for the Heineken Cup, which will be broadcast on four of five domestic and satellite channels in the UK alone.

I both expect and hope to see the Tigers go all the way again

That's fine if you're a Leicester supporter, but I'm sure that fans of Harlequins, Bridgend and Borders - not to mention Newcastle - wouldn't mind tuning in to some coverage as well.

Having said that, the Heineken Cup remains the competition that every club nevertheless strives for.

And here's something for the doom-mongers to digest: Leicester have every chance of winning. No, don't read that last sentence again - you were right the first time.

Yes, the Tigers may not have enjoyed an ideal start to the Zurich Premiership; yes, they may have, perhaps, lost their air of invincibility.

But their players certainly haven't lost their confidence.

They are a side that pulls out all the stops when it matters most and there is no more pressure, in terms of domestic rugby, than the Heineken Cup.

The prize waiting for the winners is massive, and I both expect and hope, to see the Tigers go all the way again.

But if they are to achieve what one can only assume has become Dean Richards' raison d'etre, they will have to leave some quality sides in their wake.

And many of them, I am happy to say, are English.

Gloucester, Northampton and Sale will take some beating this season.

The West Country boys have a superb all round squad; Saints are enjoying a renewal of faith and then there's the Sharks.

Well, what can I say? The idea of rugby union flourishing in the North West is a marvellous prospect.

And when you add their recent signing, former ACT ace Graeme Bond, to an already salubrious backline containing Bryan Redpath, Charlie Hodgson, Mark Cueto and Jason Robinson, the end result could be deadly.

Robbo hasn't crossed the try-line in 11 matches now. Do their Heineken Cup opponents need more of a warning sign?

As for us? Well, yet again we find ourselves with work to do.

To travel a long way from home, to Quins, and not perform was, quite frankly, dismal. It shouldn't be an option for us and our director of rugby, Rob Andrew, was understandably frustrated after the game.

It has been a difficult weekend to get over, certainly. Our away form is a worry, but we have a chance to go to France this weekend and put things right against a good Grenoble side.

We have to start performing away from Kingston Park, otherwise we'll be in all sorts of trouble.

We made a number of basic errors and to go 3-0 down within two minutes, just says it all.

We can't afford to keep making the same mistakes twice, particularly with Europe on the horizon.





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