Jenkins eyes Euro breakthrough

Gareth Jenkins has backed Wales' three challengers to make "highly competitive" contributions in the Heineken Cup this season. [more]

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Gareth Jenkins has backed Wales’ three challengers to make "highly competitive" contributions in the Heineken Cup this season.

Cardiff Blues, the Ospreys and Llanelli Scarlets have recorded five out of a possible six victories between them during recent Anglo-Welsh EDF Energy Cup matches, auguring well for an assault on Europe.

And although the regions find themselves in tough groups, Wales coach Jenkins is upbeat about their prospects.

Cardiff’s opponents include Heineken Cup holders Munster and twice-winners Leicester, while the Ospreys must soar above English champions Sale Sharks and French giants Stade Francais, with Llanelli facing triple European kings Toulouse.

Welsh success is long overdue in the Heineken Cup. Since Cardiff were inaugural runners-up 10 years ago, no team from the Principality has progressed beyond the semi-finals.

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"It is always important for Welsh teams to do well in this tournament," said Jenkins, who masterminded Llanelli’s semi-final appearances in 2000 and 2002.

"I know the three Welsh regional coaches are looking forward to going into Europe, and I really believe they can all be highly competitive.

"Recent regional form has been good, and we have measured up well against our English counterparts in the EDF Energy Cup. We have talent, we seem fresh and we are up for it."

The tournament begins on Friday week with a mouth-watering clash between the Ospreys and Sale, although most attention will revolve around Munster’s defence of a crown they won so memorably last term.

Among Munster’s major rivals should be Leinster, the side they knocked out at last season’s semi-final stage.

Leinster and Ireland star Brian O’Driscoll said: "You see those pictures of the Munster fans celebrating (after the final against Biarritz) and, of course, there is an element of envy to it.

"It is only natural because they knocked us out in the semi-final and a lot of them are your international team-mates.

"They had been in so many semi-finals and finals that they pretty much deserved it last year. Once they got to that final, there was no beating them.

"Teams get hungry for success, and watching that has heightened our desire to experience the same thing.

"Getting to the penultimate stage probably exceeded our initial expectations – but looking at it this year, we feel that if we can get a level of consistency together we can compete with anyone in Europe.

"The main focus is on the international scene, but just a small step below that is the Heineken Cup."

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