Champions Cup changes signal end of free pass for Italian sides
For the duration of the European Champions Cup and its predecessor, the Heineken Cup, the dream pool draw contained the lone Italian whipping boys.
From the beginning of the 2018/'19 season, that easy pool will no longer exist after tournament organisers EPCR finally opted to ensure that qualification for its tournament is based on merit alone.
Next season, finishing above Zebre won't ensure Treviso will dine at the top table the following season. Instead, the top seven teams from the Guinness PRO12 will qualify for the Champions Cup regardless of their nationality.
They will join the top six clubs from England and France with the 20th place being taken by the winners of next season's Challenge Cup which now takes on massively greater significance.
The move was welcomed by the PRO12 yesterday and is likely to be warmly greeted by fans and coaches alike.
This weekend, Cardiff Blues and Connacht are part of a four-way play-off with Stade Francais and Northampton Saints for the final place in next season's tournament. Cardiff finished seventh in the PRO12 with Connacht a place behind them.
Treviso have already secured their qualification despite finishing 10th because of the current rules that stipulate that each participating country should have one entrant.
"These reforms are designed to considerably strengthen both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup tournaments," EPCR director general Vincent Gaillard said.
"The increased meritocracy of qualification will add to the great strides that we have made in attendances, TV audiences and expansion to new territories, aiding us in the creation of outstanding rugby experiences for participating clubs, players, partners, broadcasters and importantly, the fans."
PRO12 managing director Martin Anayi also welcomed the change.
"Everyone has seen the positive impact that meritocracy has had on the Guinness PRO12 since it was introduced in the 2014/'15 season," he said.
"Competition has never been greater among our clubs and these latest reforms will deliver true meritocracy to our Championship.
"In this past season we have been greatly encouraged by the performances of our teams in the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup and this development will prime them to make a greater impact in the future."