Brian O’Driscoll believes the Heineken Champions Cup is losing its credibility as a result of the current forgiving pool format.
Gloucester sent out a second-string side against Leinster last weekend which was predictably annihilated, although the English club are still well placed to qualify for the last 16.
As 16 of the 24 teams make it through to the knock out stages in the current format, teams could realistically progress by winning just one of their four pool games, as Connacht did last season.
Speaking on Off The Ball, Brian O’Driscoll argued that the Champions Cup is losing its spark as teams can afford to essentially forfeit some pool stage games.
Brian O’Driscoll on the current Champions Cup format.
“It’s very frustrating. When you look at that Gloucester team.. when it came out I was annoyed initially. But I don’t think it’s the fault of the teams, it’s the fault of the structure of the competition at the moment,” O’Driscoll said.
“We’re trying to get into knock out competition quickly but is it right that teams that have won one game [out of four] should qualify for knock out Europe?
“That doesn’t seem in line with the history of the competition where in groups of six you had to win four games. Once a team won three games and managed to qualify in the 25-year history of that format.
“The issue lies with the format and it’s losing an element of credibility, it’s losing the excitement around it.”
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A return to the old format is desperately needed.
The current pool format was adopted three seasons ago in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as it meant that cancelled fixtures were less likely to decide a team’s place in the competition.
As cancelled fixtures as a result of Covid-related issues thankfully looks to be a thing of the past, the Champions Cup should look to revert to the format of either five or six groups of four.
Even some of Europe’s best sides struggled to qualify for the knock out stages under the old format, which resulted in fascinating fixtures, although the pool stages are little more than a formality now for many teams.
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