The Fall of European Rugby
In an era of financial imbalance, concussions and complications, we discuss the current state and future of the game that we all love.
Will France’s dominance ever fade from European club rugby and will Super Rugby survive the French magnetism? What changes have to be made to support the players that put their bodies on the line and is International rugby becoming a joke? When will the format of Super Rugby begin to reward the best performing teams and will the broken seeding system of the Champions Cup simplify to a sensible draw?
Questions need to be answered and addressed now, if rugby union is to have any future.
This week we put the Champions Cup under the microscope.
The Champions Cup: Spending, Seeding and Overall Stupidity
In the glory of the Heineken Cup, success was achieved by the side which produced the best group of players, had an intelligent coach, played with great desire and recruited the odd shrewd signing in areas which needed to be strengthened. Teams such as Munster, Leinster, Wasps Leicester and Toulouse are all recognized as legendary figures in Europe, all of whom operated on this basis. However, in 2013, French mercenaries Toulon emerged as champions for the first time and would change these values forever.
Having only made their first European appearance in 2010, the side, owned by billionaire Mourad Boudjellal continued their reign as giants and went on to dominate Europe by claiming the Heineken Cup in 2014 and the first ever Champions Cup title this season, in 2015. How a side with so little history in the pro era were allowed to take over and ruin a legacy with a bit of an investment is truly shocking. It could be fair to say that without a change in policy, Toulon could outrageously be the only side to ever win the Champions Cup as times go by. The only thing standing in their way is the potential of fellow moneybags such as Saracens and Racing Metro catching up with them . If this is what we will have to call competition then maybe it’s time to call it a day.
A strict salary cap or a limit of 5 foreigners in the match day squad for the likes of Toulon would have been such an effective solution that would allow rugby to live on. However, World Rugby have watched the European competition fall to it’s knees in front of them and it is now too late for an effective change as it is unrealistic to see the financial powers of Europe forced to undo their multi-million business. One would therefore predict that the elitism is likely to get worse rather than better.
The seeding system of the Champions Cup is something that also rises a lot of debate. Here is walk through on how things have worked out in the 2015/2016 draw:
Firstly, you should know that the pools are made up depending on domestic performance rather than European achievement. For example, as Stade Francais won the Top 14 they are top seeds. However, fellow French competitors Toulon are only second seeds as despite winning the Champions Cup last season, they failed to reach the Top 14 final.
Not only does this sound a little weird, there is also a number of rules and mini draws which decide which finalists go into the top seed etc to complicate matters further. Overall, many people strongly believe that seeding should primarily be based upon the performances of teams in the Champions Cup itself rather than the respective leagues and we will now look into how different the draw would be, if this was the case.
The complex outlook of the draw is inaccurate and there is no better example than pool 5 to prove this. Starting with the top seed, Bath were losing quarter finalists in the Champions Cup and losing finalists in the Aviva Premiership in 2015. They have managed to find themselves in the top tier as they were drawn in from the group of domestic finalists. A strong outfit for sure, but they couldn’t even defeat tier 3 side Leinster last season. It is therefore acceptable to suggest that Bath should not be considered as one of the top 5 teams in Europe and these facts should really question the credibility of the tournaments organizers. To back this up, look no further than Stade Francais – a team that couldn’t even qualify for Europe last season are top seeds in pool 4.
At second seed are the mighty Toulon. The random nature of the inaccurate draw leaves Bath with the task of outclassing Europe’s elite side if they are to progress to the knockouts. Toulon, despite winning the competition outright for the last three successive seasons, are only ranked as a tier 2 team because they failed to beat ‘Stade’ in the Top 14 semi-final. This screams out as just wrong for Bath as no side recognized as top seeds should be drawn along the competition’s winners in any sport. Hence, the draw should be considered unfair for them but it isn’t – simply because the English side showed a Champions Cup performance worthy of no more than a second seed placing last season. The format is so wrong, it’s right.
Looking at the remaining duo of Leinster and Wasps there is further cases for debate but we’re going to keep short and sweet. Leinster beat Bath in the quarter finals last season but have been identified as two seeds lower than them as punishment for their sixth place Pro 12 finish. As a result, they have had the misfortune of a daunting trip to Toulon which is far from ideal for the blues. Meanwhile, the final team involved are Wasps, who’s existence completes a group of quarter-finalists.
This article is by Munster Haka, proudly shared on RugbyLAD.com
If you enjoyed the piece, please check out part two on Super Rugby!
– Admin Ronan