Wednesday, April 08, 2020

What to do with the 2019/20 season? The fans' view

Hey there, I hope you're all doing well.

Of course this isolation period reminds us just how little sport really matters, but still I believe it's ok to look forward to a time when it returns because when the likes of Leinster & Ireland do get going again, it will mean we've gotten through to the other side of the crisis and whatever the new definition post-COVID19 version of "normal" is has emerged.

For this reason I see nothing wrong in starting a debate on the social media on what can be salvaged from the 2019/20, if anything at all.  Below you can see the results of a twitter poll as well as a few thoughts from Harpin followers...

Martin Loughrey Personally if it were possible I'd go straight to semi finals. Winner of each conference vs. the runner up of the other. Highest seeded finalist then gets a home final.

Gav Heg A one off final could be dangerous with neither sides match ready. No real solution to keep everyone happy.

Catherine Kavanagh Null and void. 2019/20 across the board, in all competitions. Only way. The season cannot possibly be reprised at domestic or European or international level.

Paul Smith 2 Semi finals, 1st in conference A V 2nd in Conference B and vice versa. Final to be held at the the team who had the highest points per game average

Colin Mcconaghie The idea of handing it to Leinster is a non starter. If we operated a straight league system and they were well clear fair enough, but we don’t. We have two conferences and a play off system. Given the clubs agreed to any game cancelled being declared 0-0 then it is possible to call the conferences as they stand. But after that unless the play offs can take place the season has to be called null and void. Play offs would take 3 weeks which may be doable if the summer tours are scrapped.

Keith Mongan I think there's no outcome that's perfect but hopefully we'll be able time - wise for two semis and a final based on current standing. You'd imagine whatever the decision, the clubs and fans will just accept it and look forward to next season. This is a situation that nobody could have imagined.... Just looking forward to seeing some Rugby again, ANY Rugby!!

Stiofán Teracy Anything to be said for taking advantage of the shituation and start work finally on a shared rugby calendar with the Southern hemisphere?

Mel Cawley No disrespect to the Pro14...What we all want is one game. One game above every other. Just let's get Sarries. We want them to know without any dispute for all of history who are Kings of Europe. My apologies but someone had to say it.

So here are my two cents...

First of all, I'm working on the assumption that the earliest we can possibly have any rugby is August, keeping in mind that even then the players will need a proper preseason including contact.

Now...what are the priorities?  Top of them for me is for our solution to cause the minimum impact on the 2020/21 campaign.  I'm not saying it necessarily needs to play out EXACTLY as it would have been without COVID-19, but what I AM saying is that I would like all the tournament formats to remain unchanged if at all possible, even if that means extra domestic matches during international windows.  Let the virus have a chunk the 2019/20 season but no more, that's my general view - plus, there's a Lions Tour at the end of the season that hopefully won't be adversely affected.

With that established, what from 2019/20 should definitely be completed if nothing else?  The 2020 Six Nations of course.  And this can actually be done with the least amount of fuss.  It would take two weeks, and these can be put in November, whether or not the touring nations travel here.

Next in line for inclusion is the Champions Cup, and for this we need three weeks for quarters, semis and final.  If we want 2020/21 to stay normal and start in October, this will need to be done really early so we're probably talking late August or early September.

You can tell by my questions for the ruggersphere that I wanted to see if there was an appetite for completing the Pro14 campaign in particular, because if anything on the calendar can be considered "expendable" it's that.

Of the four options I put forward, having some kind of playoffs was the preferred overall, though opinion was well spread.  A 5th option also emerged, namely sacrificing some of 2020/21 to get all of the postponed matches played, but while that has merit I have already explained why I left it out.

As I set the poll I was already in the "Knockouts then final" camp and I see there was a decent amount of agreement.  In an ideal world, since the regular season wasn't completed, I'd like to let more than the allotted 6 teams into the Pro 14 playoffs and have 8 giving us quarterfinals just like Europe, but that would mean an extra week so since time will be at a premium, it's probably best to go for just the two and have semifinals with the four best teams on points average. 

But the problem there is that there are only a few clubs involved in those knockouts.  What about all the others, and also what about the teams who get beaten - will they be then stuck with off weekends?  If this is to be done we'll need every top level club to be playing rugby week in week out, and all matches would ideally be competitive.

Well since I have mapped out a 5-week block for completion of the domestic competitions, one thing we could do is have more playoffs to determine European qualification.  But what we could also do is bring forward the start of the 2020/21 domestic leagues and get the opening fixtures played between those not involved in knockouts.  It would take some strategic planning, but I reckon it's doable and could help get stadiums filled all over the continent as early as possible.  Those teams could then have more off weeks later in the season.

Downsides to my plan?  Of course there are many.  One is that it won't really work if it's just the Pro 14 using those two weekends - both the Premiership and Top 14 would have to do likewise.  Also it would mean the draw for the pool stage of the next Champions Cup would be made just a few weeks before the matches were to begin.

But the biggest problem is the TV money.  I reckon the final decision will be made primarily based on what they want to do.  They could well say they've paid for a full season therefore it should be played, or they could look to claw something back based on lost advertising revenue.

It really is down to them so the final solution could well be something none of us has thought of yet, but the whole reason for this post is to give us something rugby related on which to harp while we all have so much time on our hands!

Thanks to all who took part in the mini survey - next up here at Harpin Manor we have another installment from our #RetroRugby series coming up, stay tuned to all the usual channels to learn more!  In the meantime, stay safe folks.  JLP


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