Cockerill: It’s a level playing field now

The restructuring of European rugby has removed one of the Irish province’s key advantages as they will no longer be able to rest players ahead of big games, according to Leicester Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill.

The European Rugby Champions Cup has replaced the Heineken Cup after a season of bitter political in-fighting with one of the key changes being that sides from the Pro12 must qualify for the following season’s competition.

In previous years they have qualified automatically, which infuriated English and French sides who had to earn their place through their league position.

They felt the likes of Munster and Leinster could rest key players for a Pro12 game to ensure they were fresh for a Heineken Cup tie the following weekend and that was a key factor in five Irish victories between 2006 and 2012.

Now they are unable to do so and Cockerill believes that makes for a level playing-field.

“The changes make it very even in terms of the playing and selection policies across Europe,” said Cockerill.

“Take Leinster as an example. They have had a relatively poor start to the season by their standards so now their selection policy might be different so that they get back into the top six or top four to make sure they are in Europe next season.

“The English and the French have had to do that ever since the competition started and now it’s the same for every league.

“Is it a harder competition now? Well if you have to qualify by right then by definition it makes it harder.

“Also having four less teams makes the pools more interesting and every pool has some very difficult fixtures.”

And Cockerill believes a European rugby competition without English clubs — an outcome which seemed a genuine possibility during the negotiations — would have lacked legitimacy.

He added: “You can't have a Rugby Champions Cup without the English sides or any of the sides.

“You just can't have one of the major stakeholders or power-brokers in the game not playing in the competition.

“It would have been a disaster if the English sides hadn’t been in it. From a common sense point of view it had to happen and we always hoped the powers that be would come to the table and sort it, which they have.

“It made sense for everybody and has worked very well. Everyone has a fair compromise for how it’s played, how you qualify and the financial side. It has worked very well for everybody.”

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