Over? It’s only just begun …

It seems that this season’s Pro 14 challenge has finally come to an end. Though of course we can’t rule out a last minute reversion to a full league format if the Rainbow Cup doesn’t happen, that would be highly unlikely at this stage. If you ignore the elephant sized asterisk in the room, it’s Connacht’s second best season ever (assuming they hold off Scarlets for second). In any case, we have three new competitions to look forward to.
Qualification for next season’s Champions Cup is assured. At worst Connacht will be ranked fifth overall, meaning they avoid being in Pot 4 in the draw and can potentially be drawn with one of the Welsh teams or a mid-table English or French club. If they hold off Scarlets, which seems likely, they have a one in three chance of getting into Pot 2 in the draw and avoiding some of the higher ranked sides.
The fate of the aforementioned Rainbow Cup is still to be decided, the current assumption being that it will take place entirely in Europe, with the South African sides hanging around to play the Lions in a home “tour”. If the South African sides don’t travel at all however, the whole thing will seem like a rather anticlimactic mini-rerun of the league we’re just wrapping up.
But before all that, Connacht are an unlikely qualifier for this season’s Challenge Cup, despite only actually picking up a single point in the two European games we got to play.
There are sixteen names in the hat. The only rules are that teams from the same league can’t be drawn together and that teams that played and won both of their games (London Irish, Leicester and Ospreys) have to have a home game, otherwise it’s decided by lot. As it happens, there are eight Pro 14 teams, therefore presumably they will put them all in one pot and the six English and two French in the other, with another draw for home advantage where necessary (and just draw again if Ospreys get Irish or Leicester), but EPCR will no doubt find a way to make it way more complicated. In any case, the teams Connacht can get (all equally probable) are:

London Irish

Agen are obviously the easiest option, having endured a winless season and only qualifying by virtue of the bonus point win they got awarded for a walkover against Benetton, while Pau, who actually won a game, miss out. Irish and Leicester are tough prospects at least on paper as the game would be guaranteed to be away, but with Connacht’s pandemic away form, that might not matter as much as usual. Montpellier are the other side that stands out, but they’re also having a poor run of form and might be more focused on climbing up from the lower reaches of the Top 14 table.
All in all it seems an eminently winnable competition and, even more so than in a normal season, it might all come down to who cares most.
The draw is live on Tuesday at high noon on