As sporting clichés go, “pool of death” has to be right up there among the worst, and it would have been a minor miracle if we hadn’t heard it again when the Champions and Challenge Cup draws took place. It seems to be an immutable law that there will be a pool of death in every competition, and, with the Champions Cup now down to just 20 teams, there might just be more than one of them.
But it is not only “Pool of Death” rivals Bath, Leinster, Toulon and Wasps who have reason to feel let down following the European Rugby Champions Cup draw.
The confirmation of next season’s battle lines overshadowed the announcement that the Grand Stade de Lyon will host the final, with that honour passing to Murrayfield in 2017.
It will be the fourth time that France have staged club rugby’s showpiece event and the third time that it has been played in Scotland while Italy are yet to play host to the final.
It is understood that the FIR (Italian Rugby Federation) did not bid to stage the latest final –with officials perhaps too busy fighting fires on the home front, what with a threatened strike by their leading players or appeasing their PRO12 partners when it comes to their participation fees.
But their continued absence from the list of hosts remains a problem for European rugby chiefs that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Italian sides may have struggled to make a significant impression on the competition but that does not excuse their marginalization when it comes to the final.
The Six Nations has shown that they are more than capable of hosting major rugby events and Italy’s sell-out clash against the All Blacks in 2009 illustrated that they are able to successfully market one-off games. Those facts should ease any commercial concerns and fears that the game may not sell out or catch the imagination of the wider sporting public.
Italian supporters and rugby fans in general would relish the opportunity to experience a final at somewhere like the Stadio Olimpico or the San Siro and it would boost the competition’s profile significantly.
If the FIR need a little help to get to that point it is time for their European partners to front up.