With just three English clubs remaining in European competition, many are questioning what happened.

Saracens are the only English club in the European Champions Cup. Newcastle and Gloucester round out the English party in the Challenge Cup.

With six clubs in the Champions Cup and five in the Challenge Cup, there was plenty of opportunity to advance. And to be fair, many clubs got very close to qualifying. Wasps, Worcester, London Irish, Bath, and Exeter were unlucky not to qualify.

European Improvement

For the most part, the quality of European competition is quickly improving. Exeter were placed in a “group of death“. In a group with Leinster, Montpellier, and Glasgow; Exeter always had a tough task in terms of qualification.

Sandy Park will not be holding more European fixtures this season.
Rob Purvis, via Wikimedia Commons

Bath missed out on a trip to the quarterfinals by a single point. If Toulon avoided a losing bonus or Benetton beat Toulon in Italy, Bath would be in the quarterfinals. Despite gaining a bonus point win over Benetton on the last day, it was not enough for them to qualify.

Wasps put themselves in an unfortunate position by losing heavily to La Rochelle. In a group with the French powerhouses, Ulster, and Harlequins; Wasps struggled to advance. Beating Les Corsaires 21-3 at home was inspiring, but they ultimately lost out on qualification by a point.

In the Challenge Cup, London Irish also missed out by a single point, but by finishing third behind Stade Francais and Edinburgh, they were another English club to just miss out. If Edinburgh beat Stade home or away, the Exiles would be through.

Finishing behind Connacht and Brive, Worcester Warriors did not make it easy for themselves in Europe. The Warriors had a great chance to progress but drew 24-24 against Connacht. One point is the difference between elimination and progression.

Injuries and Suspension

Injuries are becoming an increasing problem in modern rugby. In fact they now seem to be certain. Look at the Six Nations squads, most nations are bleeding at the worst possible time. England, Scotland, and Wales have more than a dozen players unavailable.

Saracens Billy Vunipola is sorely missed.
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Most of the clubs who barely missed out on the next round are the clubs who rank highest in terms of injuries. Wasps, Exeter, and Bath are the main victims of this issue, with all three ranking top in the Premiership.

Wasps lost Danny Cipriani, James Gaskell, Dan Robson, and Kearnen Myall to injury during pool play. Doubled with James Haskell’s four-week suspension for after a dangerous tackle on Jamie Roberts, this list continued to grow throughout the tournament.

Bath and Exeter both have busy treatment tables with five injured players. With Thomas Waldrom, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Dave Ewers, and Michele Campagnaro critical losses for the English champions.

Poor Form

While many of these teams could use these reasons as an excuse, they had plenty of opportunities to qualify. Exeter, Bath, Wasps, and Sale are excellent sides and boast a lot of exciting attacking threats.

Exeter are too good of a side to be out of this tournament, but they did not play well enough to stay in it. In reality, Exeter are good enough to make it to the next round, but they only have themselves to blame for not doing so.

The same is true for Wasps, but their group was far easier than Exeter’s. Don’t get me wrong, La Rochelle and Ulster are two good teams, but Montpellier, Glasgow, and Leinster are far more difficult competition. They proved as much by beating La Rochelle 21-3 and Ulster 26-7.

Bath’s road to the next round was the easiest. With an inconsistent Toulon, a decent Scarlets, and a weak Benetton, there is no excuse for failure to qualify. Getting a bonus point win at Benetton did not change the fact that they could not beat the other two sides in the pool.

For most of these teams, their worst enemy in their pool was themselves. Injuries and referee decisions mean little if you cannot win your easy matches. English teams really let themselves down, and improvement is necessary for all English teams.

Let me know what you think. Are they there own worst enemies? Or are the other teams improving at a rate the English clubs can’t keep up with?

Author: Andrew Weaver

My name is Andrew, I live in New York City, USA, and I play second and back row for Play Rugby USA. When I am not playing rugby, I’m drawing, or enjoying a good book. Thankfully, I was able to navigate through the other American sports and land on rugby.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Andy

    I agree with what you say above and will just add a couple of points to expand on what you said.

    For me, the big success story of pool play was the Pro 14, who earned three of the four home quarter finals, and I put a lot of that down to the structure of the domestic game. There are far fewer teams in the Celtic nations than England, so home grown talent is more concentrated and squads are bigger. Also the success of the national team is far more important to them than in the English clubs. Therefore most Pro 14 players get more rests and are able to prioritise Europe and test matches. English players play far more Aviva Premiership games, often when injured, which leads to fatigue and long term injuries.

    European experience also played a big part, with three serial semi finalists Leinster, Clermont and Munster achieving home quarter finals and Toulon and Racing also with recent European pedigree. England’s top two teams had the misfortune to come up against more savvy opponents, and although Sarries also have lots of European experience they were desperately out of form when they played Clermont and carrying many injuries, as were Wasps. Leicester, Saints and Quins were all bang out of form.

    The good news for you though is its all cyclical, England will be back. And who can rule out Sarries?

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