Preview: European Champions Cup

Date published: October 16 2014

Glancing over this season’s Champions Cup pools, an overriding truth sticks out. After the chaos, Europe, the new Europe, is better off.

Glancing over this year’s Champions Cup pools, an overriding truth sticks out. Europe, the new Europe, after all of the chaos and politics is better off.

Stronger teams across the board can only produce better matches. It’s difficult to know where to begin in the process of picking out a favourite fixture from the opening round, let alone throughout the pool stages.

The Heineken Cup era gave us countless cherished memories and the Champions Cup will do just the same. The heart and soul hasn’t changed, it’s simply more efficient with the excess trimmed away.

Giants will fall, because the margins are so much smaller. Lose your first two games and progressing to the knockout stages looks nearly impossible.

Round One will serve up Saracens v Clermont. Leicester v Ulster. Racing v Northampton. These meetings in Europe aren’t exactly new, but they have an extra shine this season.

Where things differ from the past is that we’ll be treated to those blockbuster clashes on a more regular basis. With the greatest respect to the four teams who have fallen by the wayside, this is how elite competition is meant to be.

Super Rugby’s expansion was met with a collective groan earlier this year, because the increase to 18 sides will inevitably lead to more mismatches.

The growth of the game matters, but so do quality contests. Western Force had their best season in 2014, nine wins from 16 games, and it came eight years after their introduction.

Back to the continent and we have a new name, trophy and format, but the front of shop touch-ups aren’t what caused the furore.

Clubs now control their own club competition, not the unions. The compensation between countries is fair. New TV deals have allowed clubs to strengthen, or at the least afforded them greater security. Pro12 teams must now qualify to dine at the top table like their French and English counterparts.