With the quarter finalists having been decided for the Heineken Cup, the European focus can now shift to the 6 Nations. National coaches will have keenly observed their charges in club and provincial colours as they prepare for the the next 2 months of international championship rugby.
Some will view the generally abject performance of English teams in the Heineken Cup pool stages as further evidence of the magnitude of the challenge faced by Stuart Lancaster. Declan Kidney will no doubt be pleased to see 3 Irish quarter finalists in addition to the historic win by Connacht over Harlequins. Perhaps Warren Gatland will be disappointed that after a good start by the 3 Welsh teams, only the Cardiff Blues have made it through to the last eight.
Ulster, Munster & Leinster will be aware that dominance at the quarter final stages by one country does not necessarily mean the championship will ultimately be won by one of those teams. More often than not (10 times out of 16 seasons) the winner of the Heineken Cup has come from a country less dominant at the quarter final stages.
Similarly there is minimal correlation between the winners of the 6 Nations and the Heineken Cup. Only on five occasions has the country winning the 6 Nations also provided the winner of the Heineken Cup.
This 6 Nations is eagerly awaited for a number of reasons. New coaches, RWC rematches, young English & Welsh debutants and the usual focus on referees and rule interpretations. However when it’s all done and dusted the knockout stages of the Heineken await, arguably an even more mouth-watering prospect.