Despite this age of tactical cynicism in a morally bankrupt global game, Champions League football turned back the clock this past fortnight when presenting us with a couple of semi-finals sent from heaven.
The present best of Spanish and best of English brought into our living rooms the drama and beauty of sport when played close to its naked best, a joy to behold — and, yes, it still had its cynical moments.
The Champions League (former European Cup) has of course been in existence a good 40-plus years ahead of the European Rugby (Champions Cup) equivalent.
Those of us who care about the game hope the United Rugby Championship (URC) will eventually fill an essential cross-border void and plug that niche but in its current guise — local derbies apart — it does little to whet the appetite.
By contrast, the Champions Cup is already well on the way to becoming the oval ball code’s equivalent to professional football’s Champions League.
The introduction of a two-legged round of 16 by EPCR didn’t hinder the knockout process and perhaps even added to the drama of this great European competition. Credit where credit is due.
So today at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, at Welford Road, Leicester, at Stade Marcel Deflandre in La Rochelle and then tomorrow at La Defense Arena in Paris, the top eight clubs in Europe will take their place in the sudden death phase of this, the 27th playing of the top tournament outside of Test rugby.
From a purely Irish perspective, it is seldom a couple of rugby fixtures capture the imagination of the sporting nation but today in Dublin and Leicester the capacity to deliver something special is built in.
First up will be a march back in time as Lansdowne Road is engulfed in a sea of red. Not quite the sell-out of yore but mighty close.
Playing at the national stadium as opposed to the fortress of Munster Rugby that is Thomond will certainly benefit Toulouse. That said, and I would like to think it is head guiding heart here, but a semblance of decent form of late suggests we are in for a belter in D4 to set it all under way.
Against Exeter in the last round the wagons were circled and that old siege mentality so synonymous with Munster Rugby was very much to the fore. Enough to gain a third star, no, but every indication that with a properly committed coaching team in place anything is possible.
For Leinster, meanwhile, today’s opposition presents a horse of a very different colour.
It is the best of the English Premiership against the top team here by a distance.
The fact that it is in Welford Road is hugely significant and certainly makes for advantage Leicester.
Were Leinster travelling to Twickenham in circumstances similar to Toulouse switching to the Aviva, we could be a lot more confident again. But it is what it is.
With Steve Borthwick in absolute coaching control, and his charges displaying the same ruthless efficiency as during the forward enforcer role of his playing time, this is La Rochelle 2021 and Saracens 2020 revisited.
Whether to rest or to play prior to this guaranteed beast of an encounter represented the appropriate course of action we will know in a few hours’ time but much like Dublin it makes for a fascinating clash of minds and bodies.
The smart money suggests Toulouse to advance with Leinster’s fate on a knife edge.
Both Champions League semis made for enthralling spectacles and certainly from an Irish perspective this afternoon’s Champions Cup showdowns (albeit a round earlier) will be every bit as dramatic — and nobody but nobody would wish it any other way.