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A tough job but someone has got to do it

You wouldn’t expect supporters to normally feel sympathy for anyone in rugby authority, but The Tig did spare a thought for the people of European club tournament organisers EPCR this week.

EPCR, or technically their predecessors at ERC, were the people, remember, who sent Tigers to play a Final at their opponents’ next-door neighbours, who once made Tigers season ticket holders give up their seats to visitors and who also presided over a tournament which put us in a Pool of Death on an annual basis. They had few friends in this corner of the continent.

Their annual pool draw for the pool stages is so complicated that it could be used on University Challenge, but even that was deemed not complicated enough for this season.

Faced with a unique set of circumstances with the seasons across various leagues hemmed in by the restart of 2019/20 and the international tours to come, they had to get their heads together to come up with a new format.

It could not have been easy, but we’ve come to accept that unique problems require unique solutions recently.

In this case, as well as setting up just two pools in the Champions Cup, they came up with one consisting of 12 teams in the Challenge Cup where you couldn’t play a team from your own country and, in an echo of the Anglo-Welsh Cup conundrum, your rivals didn’t face each other either. Tigers beat Bayonne and Brive, but the French duo also play against the Italians from Zebre.

Over the opening two rounds we tried to get used to the format, though Tigers winning both games made our part of the puzzle quite a straight-forward one.

The Champions Cup would also feature home-and-away quarter-finals, which is a new concept to the majority in professional rugby, while the Challenge Cup adopted football’s fashionable Round of 16 before the usual quarter-final stage.

So just imagine the feelings now of the people who dreamt that up.

Both tournaments have been temporarily suspended and, having come up with two new formats for two competitions featuring 36 clubs from six countries and three leagues, with three languages and multiple broadcasters, organisers may have to consider a Plan C.

Options have already been suggested by media and fans, some looking for slots in the calendar to carry on, some featuring movement of other competitions and others pointing to a curtailed pool stage to get back on track by the start of the knockouts.

And all set against a situation out of anyone’s own hands and shifting from day to day.