Forced to do it, the executive for European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) has taken the drastic decision to not rescheduled postponed matches in European competition.
“The decision was made by the EPCR executive,” said Darren Childs. Premiership Rugby’s chief executive added: “The reason we can’t reschedule those is that there are no available weekends. Our season is now full right until our final. It was decided very quickly by all three leagues [Premiership, Top 14, and Pro14] that we would complete the [European] tournaments in the last four weekends [in April and May].”
Hardly surprising, after more games in the month of January have been either postponed or canceled and compensatory points awarded. It is necessary, with Covid-19 surging through Europe. Rugby is a victim, however, the full schedule has always been overloaded – with no leeway or room to move. The options were out of the organizer’s hands.
European Professional Club Rugby season overloaded
“While respecting all further directives by governments and local authorities, and prioritizing the health and welfare of players and club staff, EPCR, in conjunction with its shareholder leagues and unions, remains committed to trying to find a solution which will enable it to resume and complete the tournaments as soon as practicable.”
Resumption will now have to consider these discarded fixtures, where sides sit on the tables, and importantly, whether new matches will fairly represent teams placings. Only two rounds have successfully been completed – not counting the abandoned Toulon v Scarlets game – and between the two conferences of the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, how those remaining windows for EPCR matches are used will need to be chosen well?
Reports from the BBC indicate the competitions are still set to be played to a finish, with two weekends reserved for European games in April and another weekend set aside in early May. That is before the finals weekend scheduled for May 22 in Marseille.
Full to overloaded already, it is the hope that European Professional Club Rugby can designate those dates to at least reach a bare minimum of pool play, to support any type of Playoffs. Unlike the Guinness PRO14, fans will hope that a decision is not made to eliminate the anticipated quarterfinals and semifinals. Any further disruption to leagues, or at worst, Government restrictions on professional sport would be disastrous. It would bring the whole plan tumbling down.
Following a directive from French authorities that the participation of TOP 14 clubs in the #HeinekenChampionsCup constitutes too great a public health risk, EPCR has no choice but to announce that the 2020/21 tournament is temporarily suspended:https://t.co/UlilOVV0TN
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) January 11, 2021
The one thing not being considered though is, the strain on players and fans.
Decision proves season is overloaded to breaking point
It has been created instinctively, due to constraints to the 2020 season yet while society has had to confront and fight Covid, rugby appears to have simply scheduled as much as possible, and then said ‘lets see what happens’.
Most obviously, French Top14 have always had the longest and most exhausting seasons, and as usual, began first. Yet when one round in, a game had already been postponed, the writing appeared to be on the wall. Cases were being discovered quite regularly, and that must have been at least a warning to others.
Planners will react by saying that 22 rounds of the Premiership in, before the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour. So they all had to scramble to rearrange dates that included the multi-layered leagues and EPCR competition. Always a separate entity, European rugby titles have taken on a life of its own. Trying to weave in separate weekends where inter league games to play all across Western Europe.
That has been one thing, best illustrated here. Schedule everything, and just allow it to proceed. Yet now, any interruption leads to increased pressure on the teams to accommodate change. Sometimes frustrating from the outside, with Top14 still to identify how remaining games could be played. It is all building to a crescendo that the players seem just expected to ready themselves for.
2021 might be the one year that causes more calamitous rearrangement – out of necessity, not for a want of trying. But lessons have to be learned.
And that is not even imagining the worst-case scenario. Nobody wants any further cases of Covid; 70 in the last few weeks of the Premiership alone. Premiership Rugby director Phil Winstanley says “there are serious concerns about sport at the moment and how it is portraying itself, and it just presented an opportunity for us to just give ourselves a break and to support the health and welfare of the players.”
Might a new appreciation exist in the Future…..
This is the attitude that fans hope is shared across competitions. If it reaches the executives for European Professional Club Rugby, one hopes that future planning avoids the overloaded scheduling, during this difficult period. Only applying more pressure, by trying to squeeze ever more rugby into limited schedules. That is a negative.
Maybe in 12 months time, when more controls and the wished-for vaccination programs have a positive effect, the conditions are much improved. But hopefully, at the same time, a balanced calendar becomes the new goal for organizers and stakeholders. Surely a positive that will address an overloaded schedule.
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