Ospreys, Scarlets and Blues ready for Heineken Cup challenge against wealthy elite
IT is akin to the disc jockey announcing in mid-evening that the lights will be going on earlier than expected and the fun will have to stop.
There is no point arguing.
Take your partners for the final Heineken Cup dance.
In the competition's current form, anyway.
The English and French are leaving and officialdom seems perplexed about what to do next. Talks are planned for October 23, but the way things stand European Rugby Cup organisers will be talking to empty chairs. According to every pronouncement from them in the past month, the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 clubs will not be attending.
A great tournament is in peril because of rugby politics, and all who care about the game should be angry to the power of ten.
The hope is a compromise may yet be found. But no-one has happened upon one over the past 16 months, so there is no obvious reason for optimism on that front. Self-interest rules OK.
On the evidence of the past year and a bit, you wouldn't trust big-wigs on either side to sort out a drinks party in a Bavarian bierkeller let alone the future of European rugby.
But at least there are the matches to look forward to over the next eight months, although about Welsh prospects gloom and doom abounds.
Indeed, an extra-terrestrial making a pit-stop in these parts might conclude there's more chance of bolt-from-the-blue Adnan Januzaj decamping to Airbus UK Broughton than there is of a region winning the Heineken Cup.
Wales doesn't expect.
Many of those who once believed have long since become sceptics.
But maybe the Ospreys, Blues and Scarlets can use that to their advantage, on the basis that they have nothing to lose.
Despite being drawn in a brutal group, containing the French champions, the best side in Europe over the past five years and the second best in England last term, the Ospreys are not without hope.
Notwithstanding their loss against Ulster last Friday, they have forward power to envy with four 2013 Test Lions in Richard Hibbard, Adam Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, plus fellow tourist Ian Evans.
Ryan Jones is on the mend from injury, bringing with him vast experience, while James King is one of several tackling machines in the region's ranks and you would trust Dan Biggar to shoot a thimble off a shelf from a thousand yards.
Throw in Eli Walker's pace, Andrew Bishop's defence and Ashley Beck's eye for a gap and there is no reason why the Ospreys can't give a decent account of themselves.
Will they survive the pool of death? Hard to say. But Castres, Leinster and Northampton will take them lightly at their peril.
The certainty is Steve Tandy's side need to get off to a flyer with a win over Leinster in Swansea on Saturday evening. Do that and they will have momentum heading for Northampton eight days later. Come unstuck and their chances of qualifying will become remote. Think about as likely as the Daily Mail calling for Ed Miliband to be knighted.
What the Ospreys have to do is get their best players on the field and keep them there because they can't afford injuries in a pool of this quality.
The Scarlets also have a group that could attract sponsorship from the people who make Hammer horror movies.
Certainly Harlequins have form with lashings of blood, albeit spilling from a capsule or two. And Clermont Auvergne and Racing Metro have the potential to be truly frightening when roused.
It goes without saying that the Scarlets need to up their game.
They have played in fits and starts so far this season, revealing an inconsistency that will be severely punished if replicated on the European stage.
But their scrum has improved out of all recognition and backs such as Rhys Priestland, Jonathan Davies and Liam Williams are quality performers.
Like the Ospreys, they need the kind of quick ball that Glasgow have become adept at producing. If they can secure that good possession, then Gareth Davies, Priestland, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Jordan Williams have the potential to hurt sides.
But the West Walians' forward resurgence will be tested to the limit.
Harlequins away isn't a bad start, and it is not out of the question that the Scarlets will nick a win or two in Llanelli.
But even die-hard members of The 9-3 Society, if such a group existed, might doubt that Simon Easterby's team have what it takes to get out of the pool.
For not even a significant serving of heart and soul is likely to prove enough against the French wallet.
Respect seems the best Easterby's team can hope for — and there's a case for believing they need to be careful they don't turn into the group's whipping boys.
The Blues do not have a bad pool, with Exeter, Glasgow and Toulon for company, but they are a side who struggle to punch their weight even with Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton and the deadly Alex Cuthbert to call on.
There were glimpses of potential against Edinburgh last week, but there has been no reported case of a side winning the Heineken Cup on glimpses of potential alone.
Phil Davies insisted this week his team were moving in the right direction.
But results are the best indication of that and the Blues will need more than the single group win they managed last term for their supporters to be convinced.
Possible winners? Leinster treasure the tournament but could struggle to emerge from the chamber of ghouls that is Pool 1. Saracens have been talked up in England but there is no guarantee they will win a group that also contains Toulouse.
The Ospreys? Even if they escape their section they would be likely to have an away draw in the quarter-finals, because teams in their pool are likely to take points from each other.
All things considered, 2013 finalists Toulon and Clermont look likely to prove the sides to beat again.
Last year they proved conclusively what old-school sorts have long disputed, that success can be bought.
It is up to the rest to try to counter the power of money.
It won't be easy.