CHRIS FOY: Cancelling Heineken Champions Cup is the logical solution

CHRIS FOY: Cancelling the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup is the logical solution in the face of COVID threat… any more postponements and the tournaments are DOOMED this season

  • Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup saw games called off this weekend
  • Raft of postponements was down to new coronavirus travel restrictions
  • All games between English and French teams were scrapped earlier this week
  • French government has closed their UK borders to all but essential travel 
  • On Friday, Racing 92 were awarded a 28-0 forfeit win over the Ospreys 

Cancellation would be the sensible, logical solution. Otherwise, there is an almighty mess to tidy up, to ensure this season’s European tournaments do not descend into farce.

The truth is that, with Covid still posing such a threat, this is not the time to be trying to stage logistically-challenging, cross-border events, such as the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

Organisers EPCR hope somehow to re-schedule seven fixtures which were postponed. When, exactly? As ever, the rugby calendar is not awash with empty weekends.

The Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup were hit by a raft of postponements 

When the French government imposed travel restrictions in response to the Omicron surge in the UK, it wrecked any hope of meaningful continental rugby campaigns. The Gallic clubs will not jeopardise their Top 14 league and who can blame them?

There are supposed to be two more rounds of European pool matches in mid-January but with the new variant running amok, that appears a fanciful notion.

Northampton’s director of rugby, Chris Boyd, hit the nail on the head on Friday when, asked about the implications of his side’s two defeats, he quipped: ‘It won’t come down to winning or losing games.’

In other words, this will be an exercise in virus and red tape dodging and the last clubs standing will prevail. That is not a fitting scenario for the northern hemisphere’s primary club showpieces.

Games between British and French teams were scrapped in a blanket decision due to COVID

But Munster’s clash with Castres went ahead as planned on Saturday night in Limerick

As did Harlequins’ Pool B fixture against Cardiff at The Stoop earlier on the same day

Any more postponements and the events are doomed. Even if there are not any, there is so much for the powers-that-be to unravel. It makes sense to reduce the round of 16 to single fixtures rather than a home-and-away format but there are not often many votes for plans which remove guaranteed match-day income.

If the seven postponed games are rearranged, the Scarlets have every right to feel aggrieved, as they forfeited their opener at Bristol due to Covid disruption beyond their control. 

Likewise, Saracens forfeited their Challenge Cup tie in Pau, only to discover it would have been postponed anyway.

Racing 92 were awarded a 28-0 forfeit win over the Ospreys, who had positive cases in camp

There is an uncomfortable bigger picture too. The whole European concept is in trouble. Crowds and interest levels are down. More clubs are treating these tournaments as a sideshow. Rotation is rife. 

The current round-robin structure is confusing and unwieldy. There are too many mis-matches and not enough classic encounters.

The glory days of the old Heineken Cup are a fading memory. It is increasingly hard to see the new incarnation ever reaching such epic peaks.

Is Johann Van Graan the right man for Bath?  

Bath are confident that Johann van Graan has the credentials to reverse their slump but that is open to debate. The South African does not have any trophies to show for his four years in charge of Munster. 

The Irish province have won plenty of games but no titles. When he was involved with the Springboks, they did not win anything either. 

He is regarded as a technician and an analytical figure, as is Bath’s director of rugby, Stuart Hooper — who is surviving the overhaul. Van Graan will be in charge of the team but Hooper will, in theory, stay in his senior role. 

Perhaps it will work but it looks like a fudge. Not an endorsement of the status quo and not quite a fresh start either.

Munster head coach Johann van Graan will leave the Irish province for Bath next season

Rescinding Brad Shields’ ban was right call 

The decision to ban Wasps’ back-rower Brad Shields for four weeks was ludicrous, so the club’s successful appeal spared the whole disciplinary system from further ridicule. 

Belatedly, it was ruled that the high tackle on Dave Kilcoyne of Munster eight days ago should not have led to a red card. 

Even Kilcoyne felt it was harsh. Of course, the continuing crackdown on any contact with the head is vital — everyone in rugby accepts that — but the campaign must be founded on a common-sense assessment of force and intent. 

Shields initially made contact with Kilcoyne’s shoulder and his actions were not aggressive. A desire to protect the head cannot ignore the complex realities of a dynamic contact sport.

Wasps’ back-rower Brad Shields was shown a red card against Munster last week

Ellis Genge still focused on Tigers 

Leicester supporters were understandably aggrieved to see Ellis Genge hugging Pat Lam in a video released to mark his signing for Bristol. It was ill-judged. 

The Tigers captain should not have agreed to take part in any such promotional activity — as he quickly realised. 

But anyone in the East Midlands who thinks he is already halfway out the door do not understand the character of the man. 

He will be driven to bring a major trophy to Leicester, before he returns to his home city. 

Leicester captain and England prop Ellis Genge will join the Bristol Bears from next season

Genge is destined to lead the Tigers at Ashton Gate on Boxing Day and he will give body and soul against his future team-mates. 

His impending move is another sign of more fluidity in the transfer market as players seek fair deals while clubs cut their budgets. The reduction in the salary cap is starting to bite and the doomsday scenario is that large numbers of players could find themselves out of work. 

More could head across the Channel and there is an argument that the RFU should relax the restriction on players based abroad being picked for England. It will not happen though.

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