Thursday, December 13, 2012

Extra Preliminary Talks

Here’s a mad idea - what say we settle this Heineken Cup argument on the pitch?

Heineken_Cup_web

And so after four meetings, not only do the Heineken Cup format talks remain in stalemate, the English clubs (PRL) are throwing more toys out of the pram with talk of an alternative competition.

Has anyone recommended a Preliminary Round as a compromise?  It could work something like this…

  • The same 24 qualify for the Heineken Cup as they have always done.
  • However, the pool stages switch from 24 clubs to 20 as the PRL are suggesting.
  • This means we need a preliminary round, to be held in early September, involving the lowest-ranked team from each Pro12 nation (in turn ranked 1-4 based on league finish), plus the two lowest-ranked clubs from England & France (let’s call them Eng-1, Eng-2, Fra-1, Fra-2)
  • The matches could line up something like this -

Eng-1 v Pro12-4

Fra-1 v Pro12-3

Pro12-2 v Eng-2

Pro12-1 v Fra-2

Naturally the four winners would slot into Heineken Cup pools while the losers go to the Amlin.  If that were done this season, we’d have Exeter v Zebre, Biarritz v Edinburgh, Connacht v Sale, Cardiff Blues v Racing Metro.

  • The preliminary round teams’ domestic fixtures that weekend could be put off to later in the season, and the respective leagues could ensure that they were all due to play each other that weekend anyway so no other clubs would be affected.

Since cutting the HCup pools down to 5 deprives the tournament of 12 matches for Heineken to promote their product, this method at least gains four of them back, plus an extra weekend.  Can’t see the domestic league sponsors being put out too much by HCup games happening on one of their weekends since it already happens for Test matches anyway.

One possible drawback is that travel companies would have less time to prepare for the pool matches, since destinations in many cases would not be known until September instead of July as it stands now. Though IMO it’s a worthwhile sacrifice, since it’s what they must do for the semifinals anyway, ie prepare themselves for two possible outcomes from the previous round.

Biggest advantage of this system for me is that it settles the current argument on the pitch. The English & French clubs are saying they deserve to be in the competition more than some Pro12 ones, I say prove it.

By the way…if anyone thinks I’m happy to suggest this because it wouldn’t hurt my team Leinster, we’re currently 12 pts behind Ulster and only 2 ahead of Munster on the Pro12 table, so unless an Irish team wins the HCup again, we’d be in danger of taking part in the preliminary round were it brought in for next season.

Ideally, I’d like these discussions to be seen as an opportunity to re-structure the entire world senior rugby calendar, which is still built on the framework of the amateur era and with a bit of tweaking can make a lot more sense (and money). But that is not likely to happen, so maybe something like the above can help stop the impasse? 

There could of course be something incredibly wrong with my proposal, it’s really just a means to open a discussion about it, feel free to offer your suggestions. JLP

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