Much has been made of the issues currently surrounding sides in the Northern Hemisphere, yet nobody has put forward a sensible proposal – until now!
Well we think so anyway. Having witnessed the success of Southern Hemisphere sides during the Rugby World Cup, and the growing popularity of the NFL around the globe, could a new format be the answer for teams in Europe?
The concept is to create one European wide tournament that encompasses sides from all the top divisions, whilst doing away with the various knock-out competitions we currently witness. Essentially this would be a two tiered competition that sees teams placed into pools where they play off against each team in the competition.
The below chart details how the format might look once teams have been drafted into pools. This is purely for demonstrational purposes so the actual make-up of the groups could change dramatically depending on whether teams are drawn into tier one or tier two of the competition.
As you can see, each tier is made up of 24 teams from across Europe, separated into six different pools. The format of the tournament would see each team play every other side in their particular pool twice – once at home, and once away. They would then play every other side in their tier once (home or away alternating each season).
The top team in each pool would move on to the quarter finals, whilst there would be two ‘wildcard’ places up for grabs for the two best runners up in each tier. This means teams would play a minimum of 26 games per season (6 pool matches, and 20 other games) which would see a notable reduction in the number of games they are playing at present.
Currently, a team competing in the English top tier can expect a minimum of 32 games per season (22 Premiership, 4 LV Cup and 6 European), however this can rise to 39 in total should they reach the final of each of the three competitions. Therefore, even if a team made the final of the new competition, they would still play three less games than the average Premiership side does (29 in total). This therefore frees up time for players to dedicate to international duties and/or recovery.
There are also a number of other benefits in addition to the extra weeks for international preparation. The most obvious is that this competition pits the very best sides from around Europe against each other on a weekly basis, thereby increasing the quality of rugby on show. Not only could this help attract new fans to the sport, but it may also help attract new sponsors to European rugby to help the game grow.
As you can see from the chart, the second tier tournament also allows for the inclusion of a number of second tier sides in England and France, in addition to an extra team from Scotland, and four other European teams from countries like Georgia, Romania, Russia or Spain. This gives a development pathway for a number of tier two nations who can work to attract new fans to the game through their club sides.
It also gives fans the opportunity to travel around Europe on a regular basis should they choose to, whilst still retaining local rivalries thanks to the pool format. The format would also ensure all European sides were on exactly the same schedule ensuring international tournaments don’t impact some sides more than others, whilst it would also mean that should there be an appetite for it, there would be much less friction in a move to summer rugby to align with the Southern Hemisphere.
Like with any new tournament there are creases to iron out. For example, does a system of promotion and relegation need to be introduced, not just between tiers one and two, but also from the domestic competitions that would inevitable continue outside of these 48 sides. The exact groupings themselves would also have to be worked out, but these are hardly major hurdles.
Anyway, it may not be the perfect proposition, but it certainly gives fans of club rugby in Europe something to discuss…