Structure of H Cup biased towards Rabo clubs
FRENCH NOTES:Now I hate to say this, but the English and French have a point, writes MATT WILLIAMS
IAN CHAPPELL, a fiercely competitive former Australian cricket captain, famously once said: “The only good things the English ever did for cricket was invent it.”
I have always had the same view of the English regarding rugby. England have given the world many wonderful and enduring institutions. However, the reform and renewal of these institutions is not their strong point. In rugby, any proposed changes to the game that do not suit the English have no chance of success.
There has been much indignant comment from the RaboDirect PRO 12 Clubs, regarding the heavy-handed approach of the English and to a lesser degree the French clubs in the negotiations for a new ERC agreement.
Now I hate to say this, but the English and the French have a point.
As I have previously stated in this column, the structure of the Heineken Cup is biased towards all the Rabo clubs and to Ireland in particular. While the English and French have to finish in the top six in their domestic competitions to qualify, the Rabo Clubs have no such requirements.
Clubs at the bottom half of the Rabo competition table have no pressure to perform, as they have no fear of relegation. In the Aviva Premiership and the Top 14 there are always two intriguing competitions. One for the competition winner and another for those who will be relegated.
In April, during the Heineken Cup play-offs, the pressure on both English and French clubs to perform in their domestic competition is massive, while there is almost no pressure on Rabo clubs because they are assured of their Heineken Cup place for the next season.
Last season Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup success reignited passion for club rugby in the Scottish capital. It was great for the game in Scotland. Yet Edinburg were running second last in the Rabo, with a disastrous defensive record.
They had no pressure on them to perform in the Rabo, as they could not be relegated and they did not have to finish in the top six to guarantee their place in the Heineken Cup the following year.
They actually rested players in the weeks leading up to the quarter-final. Edinburgh won a famous victory over the Top 14 Champions Toulouse, but was it an even playing field for both teams? The French are saying it was not.
I recently visited Biarritz Olympic training prior to their Top 14 match against Montpellier. The consensus from coaches, leading officials and the punters was very clear. The “H” Cup, as the Heineken is called in France, was much easier for the Rabo teams and in particular, for the “rich” Irish clubs who could rest their leading players prior to European Cup matches.