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Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Willie le Roux in Dublin two weeks ago with the Bulls of Vodacom Bulls (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

We have seen weakened teams fielded in the Investec Champions Cup before but the fact it is happening at the quarter-final stage this season raises a massive red flag and action has to be taken.

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This is the best club tournament in the world and is supposed to be the absolute elite level of competition, so it is disheartening to see the XV picked by the Bulls and Harlequins leaving out their two most experienced internationals.

I appreciate there are extenuating circumstances in both cases but it isn’t a good look for the Champions Cup or the sport as a whole and it can’t be allowed to happen again or it will devalue the competition.

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Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White explains the team selection for the Northampton Saints face-off

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Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White explains the team selection for the Northampton Saints face-off

The Bulls have left behind Willie le Roux, Canan Moodie, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Johan Goosen, Wilco Louw, Marcell Coetzee, and a host of others as they have made 13 changes to the starting XV that won their round of 16 game so convincingly last week at home in Pretoria.

South African sides are always going to be up against it on a short turnaround but they surely had to back themselves to beat Lyon and expect Northampton to see off Munster, so some sort of travel plan should have been in place.

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Jake White understandably seemed furious that it wasn’t and the players that he has taken to England have travelled in several different groups and taken circuitous routes.

SA Rugby responded by stating that it had cost them £175,000 to sort the flights for this weekend’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Saints, which sounds a lot but that has to be something they are able to deal with if they are going to take part in the tournament.

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The addition of the South African sides can add more quality and an extra dimension to the Champions Cup, but I do think we have to have a conversation about their involvement if they are going to field weakened teams when they get to the latter stages.

They aren’t the only ones who have been dealt a tough hand when it comes to travel costs and logistics over the past fortnight either, but you don’t see La Rochelle fielding the reserves or hear Ronan O’Gara complaining too much.

The champions in the past two seasons had to travel via bus and train to Paris and then flew to Cape Town via Johannesburg before flying back from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Paris and then on to Cork.

They arrived there on Monday lunchtime and have since made the three-hour trip to Dublin for the game, taking their overall journey to over 21,000km and over four days of travelling time just for these couple of games.

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Now they have the small matter of tournament favourites Leinster to face in their own backyard in front of over 50,000 fans at the Aviva Stadium. It is a daunting task with all those miles under their belts but they will back themselves to do it.

Harlequins have at least named a decent side for their trip to Bordeaux but the absence of Danny Care and Joe Marler, their two most experienced internationals, doesn’t look good and it doesn’t suggest they think there is much chance of them winning.

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You can completely see why they would give them the week off because England internationals can only play a certain number of games and if they didn’t, they would have to miss a pivotal game in Quins’ push for a place in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs.

However, the optics aren’t good and it does need addressing because the Champions Cup is and should remain the pinnacle of club rugby in this part of the world.

You would be hard-pushed to find many people that think Harlequins will win away at a Bordeaux side that has put 100 points on Saracens over two games this season and has watched Sarries put over 50 on Quins, but this is sport and anything can happen.

There are obviously disparities in budgets and resources between the Top 14 clubs and those in the Premiership and most of the URC, except for Leinster, and that means some clubs don’t seem to think they can win the Champions Cup but they should be backing themselves.

A lot has changed in the calendar to mean more top internationals can play in more big club games, with no Premiership action at all during this year’s Six Nations, but there is obviously a bit more to be done if Care and Marler aren’t able to play in a Champions Cup quarter-final.

Hopefully, the Bulls and Harlequins will both put up a good fight but half of the games in the round of 16 were a bit more one-sided than you would like and you have to fear that it will be a similar story this weekend.

It’s one thing moaning about the team Montpellier sent to Leinster for a relative dead rubber of a pool game a couple of seasons ago, for example, but when it’s happening in a quarter-final questions have to be asked. Let’s hope we don’t see it ever happen again.

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D
Diarmid 8 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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