This week I’ll be talking about the Challenge Cup, rule changes and rugby values.
So we have made it through the group stages of Europe and not one French side has made it into the quarter finals of the Challenge Cup. The French with 8 teams had the largest contingent and so their interest in the competition is paramount. Whilst the stats said that the French sides won about the same number of games in the Champions Cup as Challenge Cup, there were only 6 side in the top competition. The reduced sides that were fielded called into question the tournament or at least it’s format with several French clubs being quoted saying it was a distraction.
Is this any different from the Amlin Cup days though? Are we just paying more attention because it’s a “new” competition? With more serious sides form the Pro12 included and less teams from outside the three leagues the level of competition has stepped up. So maybe that is what is causing the scores that we are seeing and in the past teams could getaway with weaker sides more.
I don’t think that tinkering with the rewards from this competition are going to make that much difference to how teams approach it. Staying in the top flight domestically is all that matters. So whilst I think the winners deserve automatic entry into eh Champions Cup the following season I don’t think it will make much difference. The defence has been that the winners in the past have nearly always qualified for the Heineken Cup domestically. That might be true but in the past three losing teams from the Heineken Cup got into the Quarter Finals, that no longer happens.
But is having weakened teams turning out in the Challenge Cup a problem anyway? There is lots of talk about player welfare, training and science can only help so much. In the end playing less is the only answer. The clubs that are in the lower competition are the ones with thinner squads. So when some players are rested it becomes more apparent but also they need the rest more. As long as the public is aware I think it’s ok as it is. The only people I’m concerned about are the travelling fans who might spend a fair chunk of cash and not recognise any of their team.
Rule changes have caught my eye on a couple of fronts this week. First up in South Africa for the Varsity Cup they are experimenting with a couple of rule changes:
“White Card” referral system where either the captain or coach can ask for 1 incident per half to be reviewed by the TMO. This is clearly similar to the challenge rules in NFL and cricket. I’m not a fan of this as it takes away from the referee being the sole person in charge of the game. Also it could get used cynically to interrupt the flow of the game.
Another is trying to improve the scrum, the defending scrum half will not be allowed to move past the mouth of the scrum. The idea being that he can’t interfere with the ball coming out of the scrum allowing for cleaner ball. I don’t think that this will make much difference as teams are trying for penalties not clean ball from scrums.
I find it a bit strange that different tournaments are being played under different rules and I think it’s been going on for a while now especially in the southern hemisphere but I’m just becoming more aware of it.
The other rules changes have appeared in the Pro12 and are not to do with the field of play but where the final will be played and qualification for the European Champions Cup. Historically the highest seeded team that made the final of the Pro12 got to decide where the game was. Now due to the structure of the season changing and there only being 1 week between semi-finals and final they have chosen to nominate a ground in advance. This year it will be in Ulster but the thing that is causing a noise is that the decision was taken around christmas time and half way through the season.
The other change has been that if a Pro12 side wins the Challenge Cup they will take one of the places to qualify for the Champions Cup next season. I can’t remember if it’s a place straight into the competition or into the playoffs. Either way again it’s the moving of the goal posts midseason that has upset people. Last year we saw something similar with 7th place in the Premiership suddenly getting the opportunity to play 7th in the Top14 for a place in the Champions Cup. This is a trend that needs to be stopped. The administration around the European Cups has been poor at times and I hope that it is just part of the bedding process.
Parents supporting their kids at sporting events has been something that pops up in the news periodically. With volunteer referees, coaches and even the kids themselves getting abused. This has led to a variety of fun signs to remind parents that it’s not professional sport but we shouldn’t be seeing this at professional grounds either. Up in Yorkshire though they have decided to take more radical action. Setting up Silent Sundays where parents are told to watch the game in silence with no cheering or even clapping. It’s sad to see the game come to this but hopefully parents will recognise that they need to improve their behaviour.