6 Nations shows up Heineken groups

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

The 6 Nations has thrown up a good few surprises so far: England beating Wales, Italy getting within a score of England and Scotland needing a dose of hara kiri to lose to Wales. France nearly blew a win yesterday against Wales but maybe that shouldn’t be so much of a surprise!

It’s all been in contrast to much of the Heineken Cup group stage where you can call at least seven of the twelve games every week with confidence. The two Italian teams will lose, Munster, Toulouse, Biarritz and Stade Francais will win if they’re at home, the Scottish teams and Newport will lose to the better teams in their group, Ulster will win at home and lose away, etc. Given next year’s schedule now, you could confidently call 75% of the games without watching a minute of rugby between now and the then.

Strangely, that predictability doesn’t show itself when you look at the clubs that have qualified for the knock out stages over the last few years. Eighteen different clubs have qualified for the quarter finals over the last four years so the problem of predictability doesn’t lie with the stronger teams. Instead, the difficulty is with the fact it’s very hard to see an Italian or Scottish team or Newport or Ulster getting out of a group any time soon. Sure Ulster had a better campaign this time but they still needed a miracle on the last day to have a chance of making the knockout finals and Stade Francais, who won that group, are generally regarded as one of the weakest group winners.

There’s probably not much that can be done about this in the short term, as the big issue is that Scottish and Italian rugby is lagging behind the other four nations. Italy has never had a team make the knockout stage and Scotland have only managed one (Edinburgh back in 2004) and I can’t think of another one getting close. It’s not just rugby either as football’s Champions’ League has a similar problem with English, Spanish, Italian and German teams (along with a few others such as Lyon) generally dominating the group stages.

Kicking the weaker countries out might improve the competitiveness of the competition but that’s obviously not an option. As usual with these problems, the only solution is the slow one of trying to improve the level of the weakest teams.

4 Responses to “6 Nations shows up Heineken groups”

  1. 7 of 12? More like 10. Way too many dead certs in that.

  2. [...] Scotland fell to Italy, it’s not worth trying to predict what will happen today. Check out Ciaran’s column on how the 6 Nations is bringing some unpredicability to European [...]

  3. The problem with Champions League soccer is qualifying for the Champions League brings with it a largesse that other teams in the same league as those teams which qualify for the UEFA Champions League have no chance of competing with, thereby increasing the gap between the haves and have nots within each country. The further a team progresses in the Champions League knock out stages the greater the prize money earned and so the problem remains a team reaching the semis has more prize money than one knocked out at Group stage or even one eliminated at last 16 or Quarter-final stage. Soccer’s problems are to do with the uneven spread of resources. Rugby Union’s is far more fundamentally a developmental issue which having two Italian teams in the Magner’s League should over time increase the standard of Italian Rugby. Scottish Rugby on the other hand comes good once every 20 years or so. The next great Scottish team are probably still in secondary school as I write this.

  4. Scotland’s problems are terminal Declan, no other word for it. They simply don’t have the numbers playing or public interest to compete in the long-term. This wasn’t as much of a handicap in the amateur era but as it stands there is no possible way it can ever get better in a professional environment.

    As for Italy, the way Italian teams are formed means the Ken doesn’t really offer much benefit in terms of development. This could change with the introduction of two regionalised sides, as opposed to the old club team format, to the Magners League.

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