The Runner Sports

Connacht Must Now Face Champions Cup Playoff After Zebre Defeat

Connacht will be anxious entering their final four games of the PRO 12 as Champions Cup qualification remains on the line after their replay of the Round 3 game against Zebre ended in a 25-22 defeat. The game was initially postponed on September 17 after weather conditions were deemed too severe for play to continue, with Zebre looking likely to win. However, after the previous three meetings between the two teams in the PRO 12 and Champions Cup, many would have assumed a bonus point victory for Connacht.

The rules of qualification for the Champions Cup state:

‘The seven highest-ranked clubs based on their finishing positions in the league. The seven qualifiers must include at least one club from each of Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.’

While the rules for playoffs are as follows:

‘The eighth and ninth-ranked clubs from the Guinness PRO12, or the winner of the Challenge Cup if from the Guinness PRO12 and not already qualified for the Champions Cup. This club will take the place in the play-offs of the ninth-ranked club.’

As it stands the teams that will gain straight qualification are Leinster, Munster, Ospreys, Ulster, Scarlets, Glasgow, and Treviso. Treviso will qualify as the Italian representation despite being second-last in the league. Connacht are in seventh place on the league table making them the eighth-ranked club. Yes, I know that sounds wrong but that’s European rugby for you.

A bonus point win against Zebre would have put them within six points of the final qualifier, Glasgow. Giving them a better chance at qualifying than they currently have. Now it will require bonus point wins in their final four games while Glasgow cannot even get a losing bonus point. The odds on that would be so ludicrously high, if it somehow paid off you could probably retire.

Now Connacht must face the playoffs for any chance to qualify. The Challenge Cup entry will not affect the playoff places as the only PRO12 team remaining in the competition is Cardiff Blues, who are ninth on the table and already have a playoff place and are unlikely to lose it to tenth placed Edinburgh.

If Connacht remain in seventh place (eighth ranked) they will face the seventh-ranked club in the Top 14, which given how closely positioned each team in the Top 14 is, could be any of Montpellier, Toulon, Castres, Pau, Bordeaux, Racing 92, Brive, Toulouse, Lyon, or Stade Francais, depending on the final four rounds of the competition. Brive also have the possibility of qualifying for a playoff place should they win the Challenge Cup.

Cardiff, should they remain ninth-ranked, will play the seventh-ranked team in the Aviva Premiership, which looks likely to be either the Northampton Saints, who are in seventh place or Gloucester, who are close behind in eighth and could gain a place if they win the Challenge Cup.

The winner of each of these matches will then play each other to decide which team get entry to the Champions Cup.

Not confusing at all.