Thursday, May 20, 2010
How do you say "Heineken Cup" in French?
The answer to the above question is "La Coupe d'Heineken". It's a valid question since the final on Saturday for the Holy Graal of European club rugby will be played at the Stade de France in St. Denis, outside of Paris, and the finalists are both from the Top 14: Toulouse, the 3 time champs in their 6th final will take on Biarritz, losers a couple of years ago to Munster in Cardiff. The Basques will be looking for their first ever Heineken Cup title-and only the third French club (Brive is the other) to win it.
I have to admit that I am torn as to which French Club to support in this one. Normally I would be behind Toulouse, which is my favorite club side since AS Beziers has now slipped to the depths of the French Federal division, after falling out the second division last year. I like the way Toulouse plays the game, and I have a great deal of respect for that former gym teacher, Guy Noves, who has been at the helm of Toulouse for the past 17 years and has provided the leadership in winning Top 14 titles as well as the 3 Heineken Cups.
That said, USA winger Taguszwa Ngwenya will seek to be the first USA Eagle to hold up the Heineken Cup since former USA Captain Dan Lyle held it aloft as an 8-man playing for Bath in the 1998 final in Bordeaux against Brive. It's tough to root against a USA Eagle if you are an American rugby fan.
Biarritz has one bit of good news in that 8 man and inspirational leader, Imanol Harinordoquyhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/club/7724432/Imanol-Harinordoquy-tests-the-pain-barrier-in-search-of-Heineken-Cup-glory.html will suiting up for the Basques as his beat-up ribs have healed. In Biarritz's win against Munster in the Semifinals, Harinordoguy looked like a wounded extra in the last real of the movie Gladiator.
Toulouse is looking to win the Heineken Cup for the first time since 2005. I can only just imagine the ambiance at the Stade de France as thousands of rugby fans will make the trek from Languedoc and the Basque country of south west France.
2010 is shaping up to be quite a vintage for French rugby. France won a grand slam in the 6 Nations, the FFR is assured of having a champ in the Heineken Cup and if Toulon can beat Cardiff in the ERC final, it will mean that French rugby will have won almost everything there is to win in Europe. This is certainly something that bodes well for the French as they look forward to next year's Rugby World Cup in New Zealand...where les Bleus will be in the same group as hosts and favorites(again) New Zealand.
I think Toulouse will beat Biarritz, and I think Toulon will shake off their loss in the French Semi-finals to Clermont-Auvergne and beat the Welsh side, who find themselves being the standard bearers of anglephone supporters in Europe.