THE CAPTAINS OF Ireland’s four provincial teams sat in a plush Aviva Stadium suite this afternoon and rapped on the possibilities of taking, or retaining, the Heineken Cup.
The pools have been drawn, the fixtures announced and the tickets sold, yet, such is the burgeoning size of the annual rugby competition, that an official (Irish) launch took place at Lansdowne Road.
The deadpan response of the day came from Leinster’s Leo Cullen when asked if he dared to dream of three cup wins in a row.
“Yeah it would be nice, wouldn’t it?” he remarked.
The captains sat in front of the assembled media corp, never so slightly fitting in thanks to their logo-emblazoned kits.
With their coaches sitting in the front row, chatting amiably, the foursome each presented their side’s case for European glory.
Connacht’s Gavin Duffy said, “I hope the knowledge of last season will stand to us well. Toulouse was the biggest game we had last year. We had 9,500 in the Sportsground, the biggest crowd so far, and the entire town turned green.”
Johann Muller, captain of Ulster, reflected on the ‘incredible run’ that took the province to their first Heineken Cup final in 13 years.
“I think that losing out in the final got that hunger going that bit more and we want to go one step further this year,” he said.
Putting rivalry aside, for now
Ulster may have ambitions of building a lasting European legacy but new Munster captain Doug Howlett was on hand to remind people of his side’s pedigree.
The thing about the Heineken Cup is the unknown. You can pitch yourself against some of the best in the English Premiership and French Top 14.
“I’ve been at Munster for five years and it is still thrilling for me.”
Cullen has lifted the cup on three occasions in four years but insists that the hunger for more success is pushing his side on.
“It is an amazing competition,” he said, “so I don’t think the lads need any more motivation (with the final being at the Aviva). It brings out the best in players and hopefully we will be there or thereabouts.”
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