European Champions Cup Quarter Finals – France Vs England !!
So it’s France vs England in the Champions Cup Quarter Finals with an even spread of 4 teams from each country and no team from the Pro 12 on this rare occasion. This occurrence will of course throw up the usual questions of financial muscle and the strength of each league.
The Pro 12 will have many questions asked of it given the fact that not one team made the last 8 in the Champions Cup although some Pro 12 sides made the last 8 in the Challenge Cup. Of course it will straight away have people questioning the strength of the Pro 12. Ulster did extremely well to put themselves in a position to fight for a last 8 spot. There can count themselves extremely unfortunate not to be heading for the Quarter Finals in April. They along with the Ospreys flew the flag for the Pro 12 into yesterday’s vital round 6 fixtures.
Rather than this being a disaster of epic proportions, the Pro 12 will just have to come up with solutions to the problems that have surfaced off the back of results over the weekend. Now in saying all of this, all is not rosy in the Top 14 and the much talked about Aviva Premiership.
Teams like Bath and Clermont Auvergne have fallen through the trap door which goes to prove that money doesn’t mean you will automatically win the Big prize, just ask Clermont who despite bringing in talent like Nick Abendanon and Jonathan Davies are still waiting to lift Europe’s big prize. They will have to wait until next season at the earliest to win that much sought after European Title.
The lack of a side from the Pro 12 will also have people asking would it be better to have the Irish teams in particular in private hands and not in the hands of the Union but as I have shown by stating that both Bath and Clermont have spent heavily and haven’t crossed the European threshold and picked up Europe’s big prize. Bath did win it back in 1998 but that was along time ago and loads of water has passed under the bridge since that win over Brive.
Munster could easily have made the last 8 if they had won at least one game against Leicester and picked up a losing point or try bonus point in more than just the two fixtures against Treviso. This instance will show everybody how important it is to come away from each fixture with something. You don’t need to win all your games but come away with a try bonus or losing bonus point and you’ll never know how crucial that could be in the final standings.
Leinster will be hugely disappointed with their performances in their Pool and will want to put this year behind them although they have unearthed a few gems within their squad, with guys like Josh Van Der Flier and Gary Ringrose stepping up to the mark and taking the chance that has presented itself with the World Cup being on over the early weeks of the season. Josh Van Der Flier has made the most of Sean O Brien being away with Ireland and has performed so well he will be involved with Ireland during this year’s Six Nations.
Coming back to the European Quarter Finals it isn’t all doom and gloom with Connacht making it through to the last 8 in the Challenge Cup and continuing what has been a very impressive season in the Pro 12 and in Europe , where they had to travel to Russia to take on Ensei STM. So what Connacht have proven to the other three teams in Ireland is that it can be done and you just have to persevere.
Cian Mc Gibney