Owen Farrell English clubs and the Heineken Cup – a complex history

Owen Farrell This is one huge item!

Defending champions Saracens descend on Limerick this weekend with doubts lingering about the extent of their appetite for European competition this year. 

They currently sit on a rather bothersome -18 points in the Premiership table, 22 points behind the second-last placed team, Leicester Tigers. 

The absolute need to avoid relegation from the Premiership trumps all, and while most of the sages and the tipsters are expecting Saracens to do enough, there is an obvious assumption that Europe will be downgraded in importance. 

The three-time winners have already taken a severe pasting in Paris against Racing 92, when director of rugby Mark McCall opted to rest their sizable England World Cup contingent.

“Our job, if the appeal is unsuccessful, is to stay up. We have to plan for a worst-case scenario which will affect our strategy around the Champions Cup,” McCall confirmed in November, before the club abandoned its appeal. 

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that Owen Farrell, the Vunipola brothers and Jamie George are likely to “sit out” the first leg of the upcoming double header. 

Owen Farrell
Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall

It’s a reminder again of the centrality and importance of the English Premiership – a competition with which casual Irish rugby fans are only on nodding terms. 

In contrast to the priorities of Irish provinces, where the Pro 14 games feel like throwaway snacks between big meals, in England, the Premiership stands at least equal in importance to the Champions Cup. 

There is another sense in which Saracens’ allegedly perfunctory approach to the 2019-20 Champions Cup campaign, their conspicuous failure to provide any representatives to the tournament launch, echoes previous scraps between English clubs and the European rugby hierarchy. 

In Ireland, the Heineken Cup is a source of endless romance, heroic DVDs, etc, etc.

In England, it often seems like a troublesome affair and an entirely unsatisfactory construct, one which the hidebound Celtic nations are preventing from reaching its full ‘potential’.

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