UPDATE: Well apparently, contrary to the assumption below, Connacht were sixth ranked in the Pro14, not seventh, which due to the structure of the competition, probably actually makes it tougher. I’ll update tomorrow.
EPCR have announced the long awaited format for the 2020/21 Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.
As anticipated, it’s a 24 team structure for the Champions Cup. With eight pools of three seemingly ruled out early there had been talk of either four pools of six or two pools of twelve and in the end they’ve kinda gone for both.
It’s two pools but each one is effectively split in half with each half having no interaction with each other except on the pool table.
Each pool will have four teams from each league: a finalist, a beaten semi-finalist, a 5th/6th placed team and a 7th/8th placer. But the finalists will only play the bottom seeds and the middle ranked teams will play each other, with everyone also avoiding the team from their own league.
So in Connacht’s case, as the seventh-ranked team in the Pro 14 at the end of Round 13 (it was decided that the re-arranged fixtures wouldn’t count for European ranking), they will have to face one of the English finalists and one of Lyon or Bordeaux (who were top ranked in France at the time of abandonment). Connacht’s two opponents won’t face each other however, they will play the other lowest ranked team in the pool that’s not from their league (one of either Toulouse or Montpellier and likely Harlequins or Gloucester).
It all seems a bit random, so we’ll pick our favourite draw and see how it looks.
In this scenario, Connacht would play Lyon and Sale home and away. Crucially, they avoid meeting Leinster, who their rivals Gloucester and Toulouse will have to play, so that could give a bit of an advantage.
The teams ranked two and three will never visit College Road but Connacht will still need to keep ahead of some of them to get through.
For the laugh, here’s who each (hypothetical) team would play home and away, and how many points they might get, so we can see if there’s any path to qualification.
|3||La Rochelle||Ulster |
OK, that went well. I treated us to an away win in Lyon an addition to our two home wins and a couple of bonus points (which was a bit generous of me I’ll admit) and we came out joint second to Leinster.
The upshot of it all is that as long as the majority of the games go with home advantage, three wins should do it, so I would love to get Lyon, who are a great domestic side (as the abandoned season and the previous season demonstrate) but have an utterly terrible European record. They could conceivably be taken home and away. I’d also like to avoid Exeter and getting Leinster would be an added bonus, as they’ll take points from our rivals, but not us.
The second and third ranked teams are much of a muchness. Ideally one good one to mop up some points, and a few less heavyweight to give them up. What’s listed in my fantasy draw is probably as good as it gets.
With the teams ranked 5-8 progressing to the new Round-of-Sixteen in the Challenge Cup, there is a chance to progress even if the top 4 proves out of reach, so just getting ahead of two teams could get us the consolation prize. A few favours from the neighbours and we mightn’t even need an away win for that.