Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Details on European Rugby Challenge Cup qualifying emerge


Finally some details on what the "Qualifying Tournament" for the European Rugby Challenge Cup will likely be appears to have emerged following FIRA-AER AGM meetings in Croatia.

In total the tournament is set to have 6 teams from 5 countries play 8 games, to be played over 4 weeks in September. Georgia and Russia will for the first time ever have representatives in the premier European domestic tournament, but the format is still favourable to the two Italian representatives in Calvisano and Rovigo who were 1st and 2nd in the Eccellenza who don't have to get through the first round.
Teams from the top 4
nations of the ENC are set
to playoff with Calvisano
and Rovigo for a place in
the Rugby Challenge Cup

The Round 1 matches were likely drawn up on ENC standings, with a Georgian team (1st) playing a Portuguese team (4th) and a Romanian team (2nd) playing a Russian team (3rd). Whilst a team from Georgia, Romania and Russia seems pretty certain, there is doubt over the Portuguese representative.

Both the Iberians are not having the best of times financially, so whilst a Spanish representative is on standby for the Portuguese one they are also in doubt. So the team that will be is uncertain.

The precise teams for the other 3 also is unknown. Under the previous regime there were often development teams such as "Bucharest Wolves" or "Lusitanos XV" as opposed to genuine clubs, whilst the ERC blocked the Romanian champions Baia Mare competing because they didn't want to travel outside Bucharest. As it stands it looks likely to be up to those nations to decide. Rumour is from Georgia at least is that rather than putting forward champions Lelo it would more likely be a Tbilisi or East Georgia combined team.

With these nations having very few continental domestic matches and not knowing yet what precisely the teams may be, it is very difficult to gauge who exactly is favourites for each match. The Romanian team may be slight favourites to reach Pool 3 as the Bucharest Wolves beat the Italian champions Calvisano home (37-15) and away (23-11) in the Amlin Challenge Cup last season.

The whole qualification part of the tournament did not have a great deal of time to be arranged, so this may not necessarily be the tournament for good. In the immediate short term it is likely none of the sides involved will be strong enough or have enough investment in them to seriously compete in the pools, but the idea is to open up a pathway to encourage investment in European domestic rugby outside the 6 Nations and ultimately potential to access more TV markets, as well as just offering a meritocratic opening to the top levels of European domestic rugby.

However there are still questions to be answered. Who exactly the teams will be? If a Russian side plays their home games where will they play their home games when it's far to cold to play there in winter? If a side goes on an unlikely winning run do they still have to re-qualify again? In addition to that, some are not pleased at the Italian teams not just getting 2 places but a pass to the next round as well. Hopefully at least we will see some sort of idea of which clubs should be in on a merit basis now and see the ENC leagues face each other, as opposed to the previous arrangement of 6 teams just picked on convenience with no qualifying system in place.

Likely Qualifying Tournament:

Round 1:
G1: Georgian team vs Portuguese team
G2: Romanian team vs Russian team
Played over 2 legs on 6 & 13 September

Round 2:
G3: Winner of G1 vs Rovigo
G4: Winner of G2 vs Calvisano
Played over 2 legs on 20 & 27 September

European Rugby Challenge Cup:
Pool 1: Cardiff Blues, London Irish, Grenoble, Winner of G3
Pool 3: Stade Français, Dragons, Newcastle, Winner of G4

1 comment :

  1. I hope Georgian team can beat Portuguese...
    Anyway it is fantastic: the door is open for us