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Owen Farrell Salary cap may not apply to the Champions Cup but Saracens ended the Reds’ European run twice with squads that were built by cheating
Hundreds of games, thousands of moments, and yet most of them end up blending into one another. The nerve-racking international or Heineken Cup days will always be treasured of course, but by and large a professional rugby career is like everything else, the details largely fade as the years pass.
There are a few exceptions though, standout turns along the road, changes of direction of career-changing significance. One such occasion was, incredibly to my mind, 20 years ago last week, a showdown with an English side who could intimidate you with their team-sheet alone.
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Francois Pienaar, Danny Grewcock, Richard Hill, Tony Diprose, Thierry Lacroix, George Chuter… they didn’t have the same European pedigree that the current Saracens squad have – neither did Munster, to be fair – but boy, they had quality to burn.
Pienaar was already an iconic figure in the game on the back of his 1995 Rugby World Cup heroics, Lacroix was past his prime at fly-half but still a commander-in-chief to be feared, while they had so many internationals in their pack that Paul Wallace had to settle for a place on the bench.
Sunday, November 28, 1999 would become one of my most treasured European days. A rugby story Rocky Balboa would have been proud of; we were hanging on for dear life at times in Vicarage Road, trailing 18-3 and then 21-9.
An ‘Axel’ Foley try got us back into the contest before Jeremy Staunton’s late effort set the stage for a Ronan O’Gara special; his conversion snatching a 35-34 knockout victory in the 12th round.
It was much bigger than a regular pool-game success; that much was obvious in the jubilant dressing-room afterwards.
That was a day where we individually and collectively grew in confidence, a day when European glory no longer seemed out of reach.
Our travelling support probably consisted of no more than 30 people, mostly
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