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Racing 92 and Bristol

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 …

TeamOpponentsWins
ExeterGlasgow
Toulouse
2
LyonGlasgow
Gloucester
2
UlsterToulouse
Gloucester
2
BristolClermont
Connacht
0
MunsterClermont
Harlequins
3
RacingConnacht
Harlequins
3
ClermontBristol
Munster
3
ConnachtRacing
Bristol
3
HarlequinsMunster
Racing
0
GlasgowLyon
Exeter
2
GloucesterLyon
Ulster
2
ToulouseExeter
Ulster
2

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.

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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.