5 Alternatives to the Amlin Challenge Cup
After an intense two-year period of uncertainty regarding the future of European rugby and any cross-border competition, the finish line is now within reaching distance for those clubs from Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, France, Italy and more.
As Simon Thomas of Wales Online explains, the ERC have come to an agreement on three new 20-team competitions, although Italy's clubs continue to seek some assurances over their funding, per ESPN.co.uk's Enrico Borra.
Although the tension may be coming to a close, we've come up with several purely hypothetical alternatives to Europe's second-most prestigious international club competition.
Granted, some of those ideas discussed seem less sensible than others and all are reliant upon the theory that all nations' boards are in agreement regarding the dispensation of sponsorship money and other finances.
Let us know in the forum below which option you think makes the most sense.
1. Pro12 Table Priorities
In the newly announced format of the Rugby Champions Cup, there are assurances that at least one team from every participating nation of the RaboDirect Pro12 will have a representative in the tournament.
The highest-finishing club from each nation automatically qualifies for the contest, followed by the next three highest-placed teams whose table standing will decide their fate.
This is of course good news for Italian clubs as well as Scotland and Wales, to a lesser extent, given that they don't hold as much weight in the continental spectrum right now compared to their Irish counterparts.
However, if we were to do away with this all-involving sentiment and instead reward the seven qualifying teams based solely on merit, it would affect European rugby's second-tier tournament and the teams competing.
This would benefit the Rugby Champions Cup in that no sides would be taking part in the tournament based simply on which country they originate and would make for a stronger, more balanced premier tournament.
That balance at the top could threaten to weaken the quality of competition in any second-tier contest, and we could logistically see as many as four clubs from the same nation line up against one another instead of spreading the weight evenly.
2. Trimming the Fat
Reduce the field, leave out emerging nations for quality purposes.
They say less is more, so an option at hand for the ERC would be to reduce the field of its second-tier competition in the hopes that the overall standard of entertainment is improved.
This season's Amlin Challenge Cup, like others before it, features a field of 20 teams. This is made up mostly from the English and French sides that failed to qualify for the Heineken Cup, one Welsh team that failed to qualify and the four top finishers in Italy's Super 10, Romania's Bucharest Wolves and another team from the Iberian Peninsula.
While this sense of promoting those smaller outfits is a fine sentiment, one must question what those teams bring to the table.
This season, Viadana, Cavalieri Prato, Mogliano, Calvisano, Bucharest Wolves and Lusitanos XV scored a cumulative total of 50 tries between them. That's an average of just over one try scored per team per match, not to mention those clubs ending the pool stage with an average total points difference of minus-160.
Similar to the LV=Cup, this format could improve if the amount of teams competing were to be shortened, with England, France and Wales alone still able to contribute 14 teams to the cause, with perhaps only the two most elite Italian teams still qualifying for a new 16-team contest.
There would be less risk of run-out defeats by massive margins, which, while entertaining, hold little worth and only increase the likelihood of injury.
Clubs may not have as much opportunity to blood younger talents, and those smaller nations such as Italy, Romania, Spain and Portugal would become segregated, potentially damaging their development.
3. Coefficient System
It's not always the "done thing" in rugby to take a leaf out of football's book, but introducing a coefficient system in Europe is one method that might make for more stable, prolonged success for clubs both in Europe and domestically.
This would rely upon a format where clubs are rewarded for outstanding league and continental form with points. These points are then taken into account for the previous four seasons (that number could change) in order to decide how many qualification places a division or nation will receive.
The value of said points would be decided on the accomplishment, where advancing to the quarter-finals of a competition would yield rewards and the lifting of a trophy would obviously give out the biggest points reward.
So, for example, if Irish, England and French teams were to gain an edge in European competition for a number of seasons, they would boast the maximum amount of qualifying places until another group of clubs were to break up the monopoly.
Getting the boards to sign on for such a deal would be almost impossible to imagine in a sport such as rugby, however.
Rewards are performance-based, encouraging teams to do their utmost in advancing in Europe. It would also create a stronger sense of unity among teams with similar national interests and potentially their boards, too.
Again, the smaller rugby nations could fall afoul of segregation, with the weak only likely to get weaker.
4. Continental Quintessence
Quite the opposite of that notion mentioned earlier on in regard to "trimming the fat," what is currently Tier 4 of the Amlin Challenge Cup would be reformatted so that only those clubs from emerging nations were included.
Teams from countries such as Romania, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Georgia and others would compete for an increased five places in Europe's second-tier tournament, giving them a bigger prospect in terms of evolving their brand.
More teams from these countries might limit the number of English and French teams, but it would help in growing the sport as a whole rather than in pockets of the continent where it's already popular.
Rugby would stand a better chance at globalising its name, and there's a strong chance that some of the emerging nations and their representatives would reap the rewards in the long run.
Initially, the quality of the competition would suffer, with some of the top teams likely to be forced out thanks to the smaller number of open spots. Also, should the newly introduced teams fail to take, it could be a pointless investment in the long term, too.
5. Parachute Participation Only
Instead of just the three Heineken Cup dropouts descending into Amlin Challenge Cup competition, what if every unsuccessful entrant in Europe's premier tournament were to get another shot at silverware?
Should the Rugby Champions Cup keep the current 24-team format, this would leave 16 sides that could then form a secondary competition.
Quality would be assured, as some of those sides competing may well have been close in their challenge for a place in the Heineken Cup finals, and no space would be made for lesser talents.
For one, the competition wouldn't get under way until January at the earliest unless a new, quicker pool stage of the first-tier tournament was put in place. Also, dozens of European outfits would be left in the cold with only a lesser competition to rely upon or worse, no European competitions at all.