Home » a new formula, but still no clarity for the Champions Cup

a new formula, but still no clarity for the Champions Cup

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a new formula, but still no clarity for the Champions Cup

La Rochelle captain Grégory Alldritt during the Champions Cup final against Leinster on May 20, 2023 in Dublin. ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / AFP-PH

Rugby has the reputation of being a simple sport governed by complex rules, which are difficult for the uninitiated to access. The protracted controversies over refereeing at the end of the last World Cup – and in particular regarding the quarter-final lost by the French against the South Africans (28-29) – were a reminder: difficult sometimes to see clearly in the regulations. And the new formula of the Champions Cup, launched this weekend with a trip from Bordeaux-Bègles, from Friday December 8, to the Irish lawn of Connacht, adds an additional layer of complexity to the sedimentation of the Ovalie.

To the point that even the players lose their Latin. “We don’t understand much about it, to tell you the truth. It changes all the time, so it’s hard to make sense of it, summed up, Friday, at a press conference, the Toulouse captain, Antoine Dupont. Those who organize it must benefit from it. »

A competition that has had several names – depending on variations of the official “namer”, now the Anglo-South African banking group Investec – the Champions Cup had for a long time “the European Cup” as a synonym. This is no longer the case since last year, and the incorporation of South African franchises into the equation.

The umpteenth new formula

For the 2023-2024 season, the (inter)continental competition whose last three winners are French (La Rochelle in 2023 and 2022, and Toulouse in 2021) is getting a makeover, and offers yet another new formula, whose readability is difficult to simplify. a tournament that has been losing its mark for four years and undermined by the pandemic linked to Covid-19.

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“We accept the criticism of the format that we had in recent seasons, which was difficult to read and understand, and we are trying to correct the situation”assured Jacques Raynaud, general director of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), quoted by The team. Recalling that the previous formula, which involved a qualifying phase with two groups of twelve and had misled the fans, had been put in place “because of Covid-19, then to integrate the South African teams”the leader of the body organizing the “European” Cups (with the Challenge Cup) professed to try to “find the right balance between simplicity of understanding for the fan and a format that maximizes the spectacle”in order to “not to change [de formule] every year “.

Strengthen the group stage

Eager to respond to one of the recurring criticisms made of the competition, praised for its breathtaking final stages – like the last final with twists and turns between Leinster and La Rochelle – but vilified for its group stage, the EPCR chose to strengthen the latter.

This season, the 24 teams are therefore divided into four groups of six each incorporating two teams from the Top 14, two from the English Premiership and two from the United Rugby Championship, the championship bringing together Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Italian and South African teams. . Simple a priori… Except that each team will only play four matches, because the member teams of the same championship will not be able to meet before the round of 16 – where the first four of each group will qualify.

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“It’s just a very short format. You have to win as many matches and points as possible to be well placed in the general ranking and to be able to receive in the final phase”, analyzed Antoine Dupont on Friday. Last year, all host teams in the round of 16 qualified for the next round.

A Georgian franchise

“Our goal has always been to ensure that everyone can easily understand, get involved and follow our tournaments and to ensure that we have a structure that creates a real sporting challenge”, said EPCR President Dominic McKay. While only six teams have distributed the titles since 2009, and the English and Welsh championships, in particular, are in the midst of an economic crisis, the question of maintaining 24 teams in this competition may arise – especially as rugby clashes for years with overloaded schedules.

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A year after the arrival of South African franchises in the competition, the European Cups open this year to Georgia, with the participation of the Black Lion franchise from Tbilisi in the European Challenge. Enough to increase the distances again, and revive criticism linked to the ecological cost of the competition.

“Teams that are not part of Europe will play in the European Cup and fly thousands of kilometersnoted the left pillar of Stade français, Clément Castets, this week. I don’t have the impression that ecology is taken into account in sporting decisions. » Last year, in addition, several teams complained about the travel conditions to reach the country in the Southern Hemisphere – which the organizers claim to have taken into account and corrected.

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And what about sport in all this? Will France maintain its control over the Champions Cup? Will a long-toothed newcomer – Racing 92 or Union Bordeaux-Bègles – invite itself to the table of the winning clubs of the “European” Cup? These questions will only be answered in the spring, once this new format of the tournament has been released.

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