Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs began with JTL/EPCR fixtures

Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs began with JTL/EPCR fixtures

After the Japan Top Rugby and European Professional Club Rugby playoffs concluded, the scene is set for more Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs over the next month.

Japan Top League (JTL) finals played out on the opposite side of the globe, while the two leading European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) leagues played their respective finals; the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup.

A mix of expected and unexpected outcomes gives a sample of what the remaining Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs will have to be measured against. And the list of competitions is long and illustrious. From Premiership Rugby to the French Top14, a number of leagues will aim to meet the quality of competitiveness shown in the JTL grand final; won by the Panasonic Wild Knights under head coach Robbie Deans.

Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs began with JTL/EPCR fixtures

Every side wants good comparables. To be measured against leagues of similar quality. So for Northern Hemisphere competitions, they can look at the thrilling weekend of European Club playoff finals. The two league titles were decided on Friday and Saturday nights, with French clubs blitzing the catch of silverware, to enjoy the praises and gain just a little more confidence for Les Bleus’ planned tour down under.

Firstly though, Western European championships must be decided.

French Top14 sides are reveling in the adjuration of rugby fans on the continent. With the mix of flamboyance and skill, both local and imported talent is exhibiting both the traditional strengths of clubs like Toulouse, on top of the fresh innovation from the contenders. And Touloussain rugby has been hitting its peak, after securing another Heineken Champions Cup for 2021.

Another decade of Toulouse domination?

On that same continent, regional contests in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands will wrap up. And in Eastern European nations like Georgia and Yugoslavia, their seasons will end. Those Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs mean there is plenty of choice on offer, notwithstanding the United Kingdom and Ireland to boot!

Irish and Scottish clubs will be playing finals and champions will be crowned for both men and women. As will the popular Welsh and English leagues. From the valleys to the county’s, the lower leagues this year even include the demoted Saracens who have not found themselves wholly indomitable. The Ealing Trailfinders teaching the Londoners two big lessons over the season.

Those traditional match-ups draw in a steady number of fans yet just like technology, the way fans watch and enjoy games has changed. Pushed by the extended Lockdown, many more in this season will gravitate towards the exhilaration and celebration of being able to play sport and to watch sporting playoffs and finals.

Speaking of finals, the Allianz Premiership 15s women’s Championship final is to be played on Sunday, May 30. A great reflection on the equitable status of the game, with England Rugby putting a larger emphasis on the competition.

English Premiership rugby the Gold Standard for most

Provenance doesn’t regularly count for much in rugby union. Yes, traditions and heritage are factored in yet, like in some other nations, the ‘Premiership’ is recognized as the gold standard. High standards as in quality and enthusiasm by independently owned clubs – each motivated by the luster of the Championship – one that can drive some to forgo set rules of salary caps and conventions, due to a longing for success.

Apart from that sad episode, the history of the league is widely respected. Standing highly beside the National Provincial Championship in New Zealand, and the time-tested Currie Cup in South Africa. All standard bearers for others in North America to admire and aspire to.

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The Gallagher 2020/21 Premiership is soon due to enter its knockout stages. With several teams earning an extended break above the rest, this season’s Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs appear to include the Harlequins unless they lose all remaining regular-season matches.

So with that certainty, fans will look to round off a strange year that included cancellations from the pandemic effects, as well as the great return of fans and the approaching Summer. Games leading up to the playoffs on June 18/19 will attract a wide audience (always does), with the Grand Final a week later traditionally the bow the completes the rugby season domestically.

Never a let down either, as it then steps into the International test window. Including the British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, many games in July will be hosted across England and Wales, so fans have no need to put away their scarves and banners – you are assured to see a Gloucester or Munster jersey at any high profile fixture. At recent Japan Top League (JTL) and European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) matches, the range of jerseys on display will surely appear in many other rugby finals matches.

And like in football, supporting your team is a year-long occupation yet at this one time of year, it can almost feel like Christmas.

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Included in the Northern Hemisphere rugby playoffs schedule, is the Major League Rugby (MLR) promotion. That conference-based league will end in July, so it has an extended calendar although, that does coincide with the US summer. Hopefully, that window will promote more fan engagement, with afternoon games that will embrace families and the popular ‘tailgate set’.

 

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