Connacht’s Champions Cup luck hasn’t improved any since our “promotion” to Tier 3 in the draw.
First of all, Racing rather unhelpfully lost the Champions Cup final, thus failing to get bumped up to Tier 1 and in the process bump serial Euro-underachievers Lyon into our path, and then, in a draw process that had to be held in secret, lest the virus live-stream itself into our bubble, we landed with probably the tougher option in each of the two coin-tosses.
Bath would have been marginally preferable to their neighbours, and Toulon would certainly have provided more beatable opposition than the aforementioned Parisians, but we are where we are.
The new format being what it is, we should also consider who our opponents’ opponents are, since they will not face each other. Racing take on Harlequins, whereas Bristol play Clermont.
It seems a daunting task but the order of the fixtures could play a key role. If for example Bristol were to host Connacht in the last game, having lost both Clermont games and the away game in Galway, they could be picked off. Of course we’d have to deal with Racing in the Sportsground as well (I’m more or less writing off the trip to La Defense, but you’d never know).
Below are the fantasy results that get us to the quarter finals. I may be being very harsh on Harlequins, but they have a tough draw, so I figure they lose all their games. Essentially if they and Bristol get whitewashed, and everything else goes to the home team, Connacht squeak through …
Glasgow or Gloucester could be the surprise package. In the scenario above, I gave Lyon two home wins, but if they repeat their typical European performances of late, one of them could easily pull off the coveted away win that get them into the top 4. In that scenario, Exeter’s trip to Scotstoun becomes crucial, with the winner putting themselves in a QF spot. Of course if Lyon were to suddenly start performing in Europe as they do domestically, they have the kind of draw that could see them through.
There are so many possible scenarios that the best approach might be to just enjoy the rugby and not even look at the table until after Round 3 in January.