Clubs face playing midweek European games
No easy solution for organisers in the aftermath of events in Paris
A picture taken on November 14, 2015 shows a Ulster’s flag with the inscription “Respect for Paris and all the French” at the Charles-Mathon stadium in Oyonnax. Photo: Getty Images
Midweek fixtures appear to be the only way forward as the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) desperately seeks a resolution to the scheduling headache caused by last weekend’s postponed matches.
Bath chairman Bruce Craig has suggested a rugby style Duckworth-Lewis method to share the points between his club and Toulon, who were supposed to play in France last weekend. He added that the match may not be played at all this season because of concerns over player welfare.
Craig suggested a mathematical formula used in French amateur leagues to award points for fixtures that aren’t played. But there is serious doubt that the method could be applied to European rugby.
Every weekend is now filled by either Six Nations, Premiership, Pro12 or Top 14 matches.
But Leinster’s Mick Dawson believes it is the clubs that will have to make sacrifices to get the tournament back on track and cited Leinster’s game against Newcastle in 2002 as a precedent.
The early January match in Kingston Park in the north east of England was postponed on the Saturday by referee Phil Simmonds due to a frozen pitch. It was hoped that it would thaw out overnight so the game could be played on Sunday.
However, with the ground still frozen, Simmonds postponed the fixture for a second time. Leinster returned home and flew to Leeds midweek to play Newcastle at Headingly.
“We flew home on the Sunday and then went back to Leeds and played midweek,” said Dawson. “After that, we flew to Toulouse for a match at the weekend.
“I know it is going to be difficult for teams. But people are going to have to make some sacrifices. As far as I know, there is no Duckworth-Lewis-type mechanism available to the EPCR.”
Dawson added that in order to resolve the problem, teams making a change to their schedule was little compared to the events that caused the backlog.
“This is unprecedented,” said the Leinster CEO. “People have been killed, lost their lives in Paris. I think for teams to make a few sacrifices for these matches to be played is not asking a lot. And I also think that would be the view of most people.”
It has been pointed out that World Rugby saw no problem in scheduling Japan to play Scotland and South Africa within 94 hours of each other, or Wales against Fiji just five days after they played England in an incredibly physical pool match.
“EPCR is currently working in conjunction with the LNR, Premiership Rugby and the Pro12, as well as with the relevant clubs, to consider all possible fixture permutations with the aim of coming up with a workable solution as to how the five matches can be rescheduled in an already crowded rugby calendar,” said a statement yesterday.
“EPCR and the three leagues hope to be in a position to make an announcement as soon as possible.”
That is a change from the earlier hopes of EPCR chairman Simon Halliday, who on Saturday issued a statement saying they had expected to have the problem resolved at some stage this week.
Whatever the decision – and there is no easy way out – the outcome of Bath’s match against Toulon could greatly influence Leinster or Wasps’ chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.
In addition, if the postponed Champions Cup matches are not played until after round five and six of the competition, those teams involved in the outstanding matches could have an unfair advantage in knowing exactly what they have to do to progress out of the pools.
Those fifth and sixth rounds take place between January 14-17 and 21-24.
The last weekend of January is round 13 of the Pro12 league, which is when international players with Ireland generally go into camp for the Six Nations Championship. Ulster would be in a similar position to Bath or Toulon after their game against Oyonnax was also postponed.
If, say, Ulster knew that they needed to win by two points against Oyonnax to qualify after all of the other pool matches had been completed, that would constitute an unfair advantage.
Similarly, if Toulon knew a home win would secure them a home quarter-final after the rest of the pool positions were finalised, that would also be an advantage.
The headache for the EPCR is that they must have agreement with Premiership, Pro12 and Top 14 clubs, as well as with broadcasters BT and Sky, which have invested heavily in the broadcasting rights.