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The venues, dates, and times for the semi-final matches in the European Champions Cup – the most prestigious European club rugby event – have been set for the weekend of April 21 and April 22. In Dublin at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster (Ireland) meet Scarlets (Wales) on Saturday, while on Sunday, Racing 92 (France) welcome Munster (Ireland) in the 35,000 seat Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux.
In the Challenge Cup semi-finals, the secondary tournament, on April 20, Cardiff Blues (Wales) v. Stade Paloise (France), and Gloucester (England) against Newcastle Falcons (England).
More important than the two annual championship events is the declining interest in both these tournaments, and the apprehension that there may be too many games each season for the top European club players. More than ever before, player welfare has become a paramount yardstick for rugby’s growth and expansion.
An ancillary variable that might also affect the two European championships events rests in England’s Premiership League and its possible expansion. Currently, it is a 12-team conference with the Bristol RFC as a thirteenth club stakes holder. In the past, the Premiership has utilized relegation and promotion to move teams up and down. Of course, being sent down to the lower English division represents a significant loss of income to the relegated club.
One solution being discussed is to expand the Premiership by adding four to eight clubs, and then eliminating the relegation/promotion phase. In effect, the Premiership would resemble American professional leagues that continue with the same teams year-after-year, and only add or subtract clubs either from expansion or a franchise change to another city.
Should the Premiership expand, it would add more league matches and probably move to reduce its teams' European participation in both events.
The take away from all these permutations indicates a movement toward league expansion and less interest in multi-club, cross border championships.