European rugby is back, but Robin Davey believes poor scheduling and some poor form means the Welsh regions will struggle to make much of a splash in their respective pools.
European rugby takes centre stage this weekend, but before a ball is kicked there’s anger that clubs and fans are being given scant respect and in some cases treated with disdain.
Already two clubs – the Scarlets and Wasps – have complained about schedules which are far too tight, especially at a time when concern about player welfare is so prevalent and rightly so.
Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac has tried to change the arrangement which sees them travel to the south of France to face ex-champions Toulon in Round One of the Champions Cup on Sunday then dash back to prepare for a Round Two clash with Bath next Friday.
If any player suffers a head injury assessment on Sunday he will automatically be ruled out of the Bath game just five days later.
Wasps director of rugby Dai Young has similarly been angry over the way his Aviva Premiership team play Ulster in their Friday night encounter at the Kingspan Stadium only five days after their face Saracens in the Premiership.
Ulster, on the other hand, will have had a full week to prepare for the Wasps tie, since their previous Guinness Pro 14 League game against Connacht.
“We need to avoid five-day turnarounds. I think that’s pretty obvious for everybody,” said Young. “It’s not ideal, it’s not fair, and it has obviously put us at a disadvantage. But we have to deal with it, go there and give our best.”
Needless to say, neither Pivac nor Young had any joy with their protests, the governing body, European Professional Club Rugby, saying they were not solely responsible for the pile-up, also claiming that television, fixture clashes and ground availability were other factors in drawing up the schedule.
It’s not only clubs who are suffering but fans have been given scant consideration as well – kick-off times in some cases making it at best mightily inconvenient and at worst downright impossible.
I can’t imagine Glasgow fans, for example, being best pleased at a 7.45pm kick off down in Devon against Exeter on Saturday, neither Clermont supporters at a 5.30pm start against the Ospreys at the Liberty on Sunday.
Saracens fans are hardly likely to be best pleased with a 5.30pm kick-off at Northampton on Sunday, either.
There may be extenuating circumstances when it comes to Russian sides in the European Challenge Cup because of climate difficulties, but just look at two of the kick-off times.
Dragons opponents Enisei and Bordeaux play their Round One tie at 10am on Friday while Stade Francais travel to face Krasnodar also at 10am on Saturday.
I can’t imagine flights being full of French fans in either case.
Scarlets are comfortably the best performing Welsh team and though Treviso are much improved, they will find it difficult to overhaul Toulon and Bath, especially when their opening two games are so close together.
The Ospreys, who have just lost a record five successive league matches, are in the traditional pool of death alongside Clermont, Saracens and Northampton.
Based on current form, Steve Tandy’s under-performing side will do well to win just one of their six pool matches.
In the Challenge Cup, Cardiff Blues go in against Lyon on Friday on the back of a victory over their near neighbours, the Dragons, but they also have to face fallen giants Toulouse. A lot will depend on how seriously the French sides take the competition.
The Dragons have to travel to Newcastle and Russia to face Enisei for the second year running and they go with an appalling away record and a host of injuries as well.
Newcastle are flying high in the Premiership and Bordeaux, who they face in a December double-header, are formidable opponents so it’ll take something special for the Dragons to reach the knock-out stages.
It doesn’t look good for any of the Welsh teams and it has to be said a quarter-final place is probably beyond any of them.
No surprises there as the struggle continues against French and English teams with far bigger budgets and resources.