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Round 2 Armchair Guide

Round One all went to plan with the obvious exception, but the raft of match cancellations and the uncertainty of how they will be decided adds an extra level of mystery to what is going on in Round 2 (get well soon to all the players and staff affected).

With one loss under our belt, but with a welcome bonus point, the ideal scenario is to have as few teams as possible on three wins, thus making it likely that Connacht would qualify if they win their remaining games and even open up the possibility that on a very miraculous day, they could pox into the quarter-finals with only two wins.

Racing look likely candidates for a couple of wins against Quins, and that may not be a bad thing, as it could mean that they are safely qualified before the trip to the Sportsground, and with two-legged quarter-finals, the incentive to finish higher up the table is reduced and so consequently might be their motivation. Try bonus points would help on that front. We got them off to a good start by skillfully conceding four tries in Paris.

So that’s one team on three wins at least. After that, Clermont look odds on to repeat their win over Bristol on the last weekend and Munster may well do the same away to Quins (the latter being severely demotivated by a double dose of Racing and thinking ahead to the derby against Wasps the following week), thus a divvying up up the spoils in the two Munster v Clermont games would be the worst outcome as it would leave them both on three wins, so it is better all round if the same team wins both games. Clermont seem more likely to do the double you would think. On the other hand, Thomond, while not the fortress of old, is still a God-awful place to go if it’s points you’re after. I’m plumping for Munster on the grounds that if they can win in the Michelin, they can finish the job in Limerick. If they lose, I’ll just switch jerseys next round.

The exact same scenario would have applied to the Exeter/Toulouse fixtures. Both look likely winners in Round 4 so we want both results to go the same way, so I would have preferred an Exeter away win. Word around the campfire though is that Toulouse will be awarded the game, since it was Exeter who caused the cancellation. In that case just shout for Toulouse in Round 3.

The situation with Glasgow v Lyon is less clear cut. That could be called a draw since it’s neither team’s doing. I’d have liked a Glasgow win there. They don’t look like QF contenders and any points Lyon drop is a good thing looking at their fixture list.

Gloucester and Ulster are probably best sharing the points, just in case one of them pulls an upset in Round 4, so shout for the home team in each case.

With those results, Toulouse and Munster (or Clermont) would end up with four wins, Racing with three, leaving the outside chance of someone pipping Lyon to fourth spot. Looking at Bordeaux’s fixture list, they could very well end up top of the heap on the other side, which wouldn’t be a bad outcome to the pool stage adventures.

In all cases, the less bonus points, the better, except for Racing, who we’d like to get comfortable, and of course Connacht, for whom a try bonus against Bristol would really really help, but a win is of course essential …

Desired results (in bold):

Gloucester v Ulster

Clermont v Munster

Harlequins v Racing 92 (TBP)

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Who to shout for in Round 1

The new format makes it even harder to know who to shout for in the other games.

Since the teams are now split into two pools with four qualifiers from each, with no best runners-up, the results in the other Pool are of supreme indifference to us (except from the point of view of potential Quarter Final opponents), so Connacht fans can just sit back and enjoy those.

As for Connacht’s pool, it’s a bit early to say in most cases. As mentioned before, sharing the points about is key to having a chance of coming through the pack. Ideally you want three teams to win all around them while the points in the other games are shared, giving a shot at fourth spot and perhaps a meeting with Leinster. My previous suggestion that Glasgow or Gloucester could be dark horses given their pairing with Lyon now looks very wide of the mark given their starts to their respective domestic seasons.

One result that would definitely help would be for Clermont to win away to Bristol. If Connacht could then beat Bristol the following weekend (a basic requirement for us to have any chance), Pat Lam’s side might consider themselves effectively out of contention, which could only help our prospects in Ashton Gate.

After that, it’s probably best if Exeter and Toulouse keep winning, as they’ll probably be in the top 3 and if the rest go with the home team, to keep the points spread thinner.

So the preferred winners (in bold) are (without much conviction):

Ulster v Toulouse

Bristol Bears v ASM Clermont Auvergne

Lyon v Gloucester

Exeter Chiefs v Glasgow Warriors

Munster v Harlequins

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The new Champions Cup format: What’s really going on?

So yesterday, I forgot the details of Pro 14’s European qualification rules. As you may (almost certainly not) remember from previous seasons, qualification is based on your position within your conference, but once you’ve qualified, that no longer matters, and your seeding in the draw is based on your total points, regardless of which conference you’re in. The logic presumably is that consistency would lead to predictability, thence to boredom, and therein madness lies.

If like me, you feel silly for not knowing that eminently sensible arrangement, console yourself that Pro14 missed it themselves, and had to update their press release. This was all too late for Gerry Thornley, who didn’t get the news before his print deadline, so I don’t feel so bad.

The upshot of it all is that Connacht have now leapfrogged Glasgow, having had one point more than them after round 13, and are now the sixth-ranked team in the Pro14, and thus in Tier 3 for the draw. Cue wild celebration, a heroic victory, actually not quite.

You see the problem (as Gerry also alludes to) is that the Tier 1 teams that Connacht would have faced as a Tier 4 side, are less intimidating in European terms than the Tier 2 sides we now have to deal with. A choice of Lyon or Bordeaux has now become a toss-up between Toulon and Racing. The trade-off is that we avoid the English finalists, but the likely losing semi-finalists (Wasps/Bristol) will be no pushover.

So I’ll have a go at faking the draw again and see if our promotion has helped us (I’ll just stick in the number of wins as predicting bonus points is a bit silly):

TierTeamOpponentsWins
1LeinsterGloucester
Toulouse
4
1SaleDragons
Toulouse
3
1LyonDragons
Gloucester
1
2UlsterNorthampton
La Rochelle
2
2BristolConnacht
La Rochelle
2
2RacingNorthampton
Connacht
3
3 Connacht Bristol
Racing
2
3NorthamptonRacing
Ulster
1
3La RochelleUlster
Bristol
2
4DragonsSale
Lyon
1
4GloucesterLeinster
Lyon
2
4ToulouseLeinster
Sale
1


I gave us home wins over Racing and Bristol and I still could only get us into a five-way scrap for the last slice of pudding.

So this has definitely gotten harder.

There is one hope. If a French team win the Champions Cup, they automatically go into Tier 1, which would mean second-placed Lyon drop to Tier 2, which would then give Connacht a 50/50 shot at playing them home and away, which would be far preferable to Racing or Toulon.

So sorry Leinster, I’m afraid the unbeaten season will have to come a cropper at the final hurdle 🙂

If I’ve made any other errors, there’s a comment option (that I think works).

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The new Champions Cup format: What’s going on?

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).

EPCR’s explanatory video

It all seems a bit random, so we’ll pick our favourite draw and see how it looks.

RankTeam
1Leinster
1Sale
1Lyon
2Ulster
2Bristol
2Racing
3Scarlets
3Northampton
3La Rochelle
4Connacht
4Gloucester
4Toulouse

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.

RankTeamOpponentsPinky Points
1LeinsterGloucester
Toulouse
19
1SaleConnacht
Toulouse
10
1LyonConnacht
Gloucester
4
2UlsterNorthampton
La Rochelle
9
2BristolScarlets
La Rochelle
10
2RacingNorthampton
Scarlets
14
3ScarletsBristol
Racing
5
3NorthamptonRacing
Scarlets
9
3La RochelleUlster
Bristol
9
4ConnachtSale
Lyon
14
4GloucesterLeinster
Lyon
6
4ToulouseLeinster
Sale
6

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.