Last night I ate a whole wedge of Emmental and washed it down with a half litre of Absinthe in the hope that I might get inside the minds of the EPCR intelligentsia as they, holed up in their Alpine redoubt, plot their latest dastardly scheme to confuse the bejaysus out of the European Rugby community.
I woke up in a cold sweat with an irrational fear of cuckoo clocks, unrealistic expectations of train punctuality, and the complete Challenge Cup pool draw fresh in my otherwise fuzzy brain.
Previous notions of a two-tier structure, were, I now realise, a product of excessive sobriety. The EPCR like a four tier system, and four tiers is what we’ll get, and here’s how they’ll do it.
First you just need to lump the Cheetahs in with the English teams to balance up the numbers. Then you create Tiers One and Four in the same way as the Champions Cup, with two teams from each league, the top two in Tier One and the bottom two in Tier Four. You are then left with eight teams, which go into Tiers Two and Three. These tiers have less teams but that doesn’t matter as Tier One teams only play Tier Four and Tier Two only play Tier Three. Tiers Two and Three will each have two URC teams but only one from England and France.
So it looks like this:
Tier 1: Glasgow, Scarlets, Wasps, Bristol, Toulon, Pau
Tier 2: Connacht, Lions, Worcester, Stade Francais
Tier 3: Benetton, Cardiff, Newcastle, Brive
Tier 4: Dragons, Zebre, Bath, Cheetahs, Bayonne, Perpignan/Mont-de-Marsan
The upshot of it all is that, while a draw will be required to split the teams into two Pools, which will determine which Tier One teams play which Tier Four teams, the Tier Two and Three games can only go one way. Since you can’t play a team from your own league, Connacht will have to play Brive and Newcastle. Lions will play the same two teams, while Worcester and Stade Francais will each play Benetton and Cardiff.
If that doesn’t make sense, then you’re too sober and rational.
On the one hand, part of me hopes this is wrong, as I would prefer to go to Bath and Bayonne. On the other hand, we’ve had good craic in Brive and Newcastle, and the last time we played them both, we won the league. So maybe it will all work out for the best.