European Rugby Champions Cup draw not quite the bonanza forecast

Teething problems understandable but organisers will need to deliver more detail

 Simon Shaw and  Scott Quinnell conduct the draw for the European Rugby Champions Cup in Neuchatel, Switzerland yesterday. Photograph:  Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images.

Simon Shaw and Scott Quinnell conduct the draw for the European Rugby Champions Cup in Neuchatel, Switzerland yesterday. Photograph: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images.


Hoss didn’t get the girl in Bonanza, which at that precise moment, was something of a double whammy in the disappointment stakes. Tuning into TG4 to take in the draw for the brand new European Rugby Champions Cup from Neuchatel in Switzerland only to be greeted by the long running Western series was a little perplexing.

The press release from European Professional Club rugby stated the draws for the new European Challenge Cup and its elite sibling the European Rugby Champions Cup would be broadcast live on TG4. They weren’t. There were other options, Sky Sports News for example but there wasn’t sight nor sound of Craig Doyle, Raphael Ibanez, Simon Shaw and Scott Quinnell, the new tournament’s chief co-celebrants on their channels at that point.

Joining the live stream on www.epcrugby meant watching a periodically frozen picture from which the sound ebbed and flowed: aurally the tide was out most of the time. The website had nothing on it for most of the day in terms of news and that seems to be symptomatic of the whole shooting match.

Minimal information

There is minimal information available, which is a surprise, given the virulence with which several constituents wanted rid of the Heineken Cup and a new structure put in place. It might be described as a soft launch but there’s no denying that the term, winging it, best describes what has been a hugely underwhelming venture so far.

Throughout the battle for control of European rugby a common refrain from those in pursuit of a new tournament was that they would aggressively maximise potential revenue streams, eschewing a title sponsor in favour of a Champions League style branding across several leading companies. Discussions are ongoing with nothing in place, at least publicly.

No dates were released for the knock-out stages of the tournament although these are believed to be the first week in April for the quarter-finals, a fortnight later for the semi-finals with the final to take place roughly on the first weekend in May.

A sketchy framework for the tournament has been presented but there is substantial detail that is missing. The English and French clubs were particularly vocal in picking apart the previous European structure but what they’ve come up with instead so far has been wishy washy.

Even the parameters for the draw were rather convoluted. Six teams for tier one slots but only five pools necessitated a lottery in which French Top 14 finalists Castres were the unlucky losers.

No clarification

There were rules and regulations where some teams had to go and others couldn’t in both tournaments that made the process clunky. There was no clarification of how the quarter-finalists would be decided, just an assumption that the five pool winners would be joined by the three best runners-up.

Teething problems are understandable but on examining what was promised and subsequently delivered at this point, there is quite a discrepancy. The draw might provide a distraction in the short term but it cannot camouflage that there is a huge amount still left to do.

Some of the constituents in the process threatened to sunder European rugby during the protected dispute over governance of the club game in the northern hemisphere. They asked for a lot, promised much but based on yesterday’s launch have delivered precious little.

If the new vision, in terms of the European Rugby Champions Cup, is to flourish, to capture the hearts and minds of players and supporters, in the same vein as its predecessor, it’ll have to offer more than has been revealed to date.

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