There will be a number of clubs (4 to be exact) who are, quite rightly, entitled to feel a bit pissed off about the European competitions that started this weekend.
Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Edinburgh and Newport Dragons all finished above Zebre in the Pro 12 table last season – and all four have been confined to the second tier competition – the Challenge Cup.
Zebre qualified through a weird system that insists that Italy have a team in the senior Challenge Cup –
- PRO12:The seven highest-ranked clubs based on their finishing positions in the league. The seven qualifiers must include at least one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
Last year Zebre came 11th (out of 12) and got a free pass because the last place was another Italian club.
Zebre managed to win just 5 games (out of 22) – Cardiff, Edinburgh and and Ospreys all won 11 ; Zebre ended with 24 points – Cardiff (56), Ospreys (55), Edinburgh (54) – even the Dragons got 26.
There will have been a fair bit of schadenfreude in Wales and Scotland yesterday when they saw the result from the Ricoh – Wasps 82 -14 Zebre.
Why has merit given way to where your home pitch is located?
It is unlikely that any of the snubbed sides would have seriously challenged for the Champions Cup trophy but certainly Cardiff should have been given the opportunity to prove me wrong.
All four started with wins in the Challenge Cup and one may well go on to win it – but that is hardly the point.
Another factor is the impact on the senior competition – the other three in Zebre’s pool – Wasps, Connacht and Toulouse all have an immediate advantage over the rest of the groups as they can pretty much bank on maximum points against the Italians and may possibly be more able to rotate and rest players before the knockout stages.
I’m not sure but I’d be willing to bet that historically there were two sides reaching the quarters in every pool with an Italian side.
I have nothing against Treviso or Zebre – who currently occupy 11th and 12th (out of 12) in this season’s Pro12, but there is a reason why merit means what it does.
In South Africa ‘transition’ is helping to create the problems in Springbok rugby – but that’s a whole different ball game – except it isn’t really is it?