CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: The much-maligned Amlin matters to the Dragons
9:31am Thursday 10th October 2013 in Sport
LAZIO became the last football club to lift the Cup Winners' Cup when Pavel Nedved fired them to glory at Villa Park in 1999. Not many sides will harbour ambitions of becoming rugby's equivalent when the Amlin Challenge Cup gets under way.
The name of the team that triumphs at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday, May 23 is almost certain to be the 18th and last one engraved on the trophy.
The rumpus over European rugby is ensuring that if the Heineken Cup does somehow take place in 2014/15 then it will be a diluted affair without the English and French.
And this year's Amlin is unlikely to be high on the list of priorities for teams from those two countries; they won't be bothered about emulating Lazio at Villa Park in 1999.
Biarritz, Bayonne, Oyonnax, Worcester, Newcastle, Sale and London Irish are far more concerned with avoiding relegation than progressing to the knockout stages.
The fact that three Heineken Cup big guns will drop into the tournament and probably win the silverware makes getting to the quarters seem like a lot of effort for little reward.
But Newport Gwent Dragons won't be thinking that way.
Europe provides the change for the region to showcase the strides made at Rodney Parade to a wider audience.
Wales' hopes of Heineken Cup knockout rugby rest with the Ospreys and they have been pooled with Leinster, Northampton and Castres (surely they must always be number 13 ball in the velvet bag?).
But the Dragons are aiming to be in the mix for a European quarter-final by the time we enter 2014.
If qualification is still a possibility in January then there will be a humdinger against Bath at Rodney Parade on the weekend of the 9th, boosting the region's coffers and raising their profile.
And if they could pip the West Countrymen to top spot in Pool Two then they would probably secure another big home game in the last eight in April.
Of course, by then the grim European situation might be even grimmer.
The regions are faced by a nightmare scenario – as crudely outlined by Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis when he told the BBC that they could either sign a new participation agreement or cease to exist.
The quartet can roll the dice put their future in the hands of the WRU or try and work out a way to join the new Rugby Champions Cup.
Risks will be taken whatever path is trodden and it is time for the regions, who have the players, to show some bottle.
Joining up with England and having regular competition against those over the Severn Bridge would be the dream scenario.
It would give rugby a real shot in the arm in Wales and providing the supporters with what they want.
Getting that is the tough, and some would say impossible, part given that the Union would lose some control and potentially see a bigger rival to the golden egg that is Test rugby.
These are crucial times for the sport in Wales. Get it right and the future could be promising, get it wrong and heaven help us.
– THE Dragons' European opener against Mogliano sums up what's wrong with the second-tier tournament.
The Italian side striving for victories in the Amlin Challenge Cup should be Zebre, who will fail to record their second ever victory when they are beaten by Toulouse in the Heineken Cup this weekend.
When the row over European rugby started the English and French claimed they were concerned by the bloated size of the premier tournament and the lack of qualification for those in the RaboDirect Pro12.
That is, of course, claptrap. It is money and control that has motivated their breakaway.
The Amlin Challenge Cup was improved when they introduced quarter-final spots for Heineken runners-up but there is an awful lot of one-sided rugby played before we get to that stage.
There are 10 fixtures this weekend and only four are in the balance given that Lusitanos, Mogliano, Cavalieri Prato, Bucharest, Viadana and Calvisano are sure to struggle.
That's an awful lot of filler.
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