Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The blueprint

Tear it apart and build it up, a possible structure for European rugby by @edserburke

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Rugby Opinion

Okay, as a starting point, it’s worthwhile considering what people want from their rugby across the various countries involved.

I hope it’s not too simplistic to say that the Rabo teams are open to pretty much anything in terms of a structure, given how bleak the future is looking for them at present. The English have a slightly longer league history but not by much. Leaving us with the French, who have a domestic league for longer than any of us can remember. There will always be a French league because of this and French champions will have to be crowned each season. More on that later.

My proposal is for a 32 team, NFL style, European rugby championship, cut into 2 halves with the British and Irish on one side (North) and the French and Italians on the other side (South). These halves would, in turn, be cut into 2 halves again, making 4 quarters (North-West, North-East, South-East and South-West).
North East is effectively the English premiership, comprised of their top 8 teams.

North West is comprised of 3 Irish teams, 3 Welsh teams and 2 Scottish teams.

South West is made up of French teams from the North and Southwest of that country.

South East is comprised of 6 French teams from that area of the country and 2 Italian teams.

So it may look like something like this:
North-East: Saracens, Leicester, Northampton, Bath, Harlequins, Wasps, Exeter, Sale.
North-West: Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Ospreys, Scarlets, Dragons, Glasgow, Edinburgh.
South-West: Racing Metro, Stade Francais, Bordeaux, Biarritz, Bayonne, Clermont, Oyonnax, Brive.
South-East: Grenoble, Toulouse, Castres, Montpellier, Toulon, Perpignan, Treviso, Zebre.

Now for the fixtures. Excluding June test window, and July & August for rest, there are 39 weeks in the domestic calendar. The Rabo teams currently play 28-33 games per year (excluding Welsh), The English (& Welsh) play 31-38 games per year and the French play 32-38 games per year.

On this basis, a fixture list of 30-35 games should be manageable if no other competitions are played, also allowing for 2 off weeks during the November internationals and 3 during the 6 nations. So 30 standard league games for all, as follows:

Each team plays the other 7 in their quarter home and away, generating 14 matches and lots of traditional derbies. They also play the remaining 8 teams in their half (north or south) once, 4 of them at home and 4 of them away, so another 8, coming to 22 in total. Finally, they can play one set of 8 teams in the other half of the competition on the same basis, 4 home and 4 away. This could be rotated on an annual basis, so that you play the other 8 the following year. 30 matches in total.

Upon completion of this ‘regular season’, the 2 top teams in the south can play off for what will effectively be the French championship (unless there is a drastic change in the fortunes of Italian rugby) and the British and Irish can do like-wise. These matches would not have any impact on the play offs coming after, but may alleviate the French need to crown their national champions. These matches would be played in isolation the week immediately following the regular season.

My proposal then for the play offs would involve the top 3 in each division. As the 4 table toppers have played a final the week before, they get a bye the first week, straight into the quarter finals with home advantage. The 2nd and 3rd placed teams then play off to qualify for the quarter finals, followed by semis and a final obviously.

So what happens to everyone one else who doesn’t make this pan-European competition?

Next tier down we can do the same again, without the crossover matches. So a 12 team British and Irish 2nd tier, comprised of say: Connacht, Cardiff, 2 more Welsh teams, 2 Scottish teams, a fifth Irish team (exiles maybe), and another 6 English teams. Same on the other side of the draw, but each just play the other 11 in their own league home and away, with maybe a crossover cup competition to fill any blank dates. Promotion on each side on a 1 up, 1 down basis. You can drop down to a 3rd tier if required and bring in developing countries and also have a way for teams to get from domestic competitions proper (AIL) into the bottom rung of the system. After all, meritocracy is of great importance.

Governance and TV deals I’ll leave for someone else because it’s boring. Let me know what you think!

@edserburke : “He really seems to like rugby for someone who was so crap at it!”


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019