What other sporting competition creates the excitement that the Heineken Cup raises? asks BallHandling Hooker
photo by deek ay [creative commons license]
Before you start, this isn't another article about the blame game that is ongoing in European rugby circles. There will be no mention of splits in revenues, qualifying by merits, governance or power grabbing.
When the competition gets going, in it's current format it's close to perfect. Close to, because really with all the outside fuss about it, it can't really be called perfect can it? I believe that reducing the number of teams from 24 to 20 will compromise the excitement of the pool stages.
What other sporting competition in the world keeps every fan of every team on the lookout for every result, while attempting to calculate every permutation?
Two things give the Heineken Cup as it is this selling point. Firstly, the fact that not every 2nd place team qualifies for the quarter finals. This gives every team the emphasis to keep pushing and ensure they secure first place in their pool, while at the same time giving second place teams the incentive to try and get as many points as possible to be one of the lucky two. In no other competition are bonus points as treasured as in the Heineken Cup, and it really works.
Even for first placed teams, the quarter final draws gives further incentives to collect as many points as possible to ensure a home draw, and an "easy" as possible draw. I say "easy" because with all 6 countries participating, there are no "easy" games in Europe anymore.
There is no resting of players like in soccer's equivalent the Champions League once you are qualified after Round 4. Every fan looks at every game, in every round, and every bonus point.
Already in round 4, I'm mentally ruing bonus points that got away, or delighted that bonus points for other teams never arrived. I know that this mental calculations will be ongoing until the final whistle of the last game in Round 6. It's only then that everything is known.
Why lose this excitement?