One of the stated goals of the new European rugby tournaments was an increase in how competitive the new competitions would be. If that has been achieved in the Champions Cup the same cannot be said of its baby sister, the Challenge Cup.
While 25,600 were watching a full-blooded Munster v Clermont affair in Round 3, a paltry 4,000 went to see Brive (who average over 12,000 in the Top 14) take on Oyonnax.
To be fair to EPCR, not all blame can be laid at their door. The Amlin Challenge Cup, its previous incarnation, was never particularly loved by supporters. But crucially, there was at least the carrot of a place in the Heineken Cup for the winner. With that carrot taken away in favour of an end-of-season play-off system that merely adds another two weeks of competitive rugby to an already cluttered calendar, what reason does any club really have to prioritise the Challenge Cup over its domestic league?
If there is any hope of the Challenge Cup being a worthwhile tournament, it must hold qualification for its big brother, the Champions Cup. Without it, this season it has become less competitive, not more. Until that happens it will remain a damp squib of a tournament, unloved by fans, media, and to be brutally honest, clubs alike.