22 January 2014

Once again Ireland dominates the Heineken Cup

At the end of the day only one team can win the Heineken Cup each year. But to consider the success of individual countries it is worth calculating their success rate at qualifying for the quarter-finals of the tournament.

With the pool stages of this year’s Heineken Cup just completed and the seeding for the quarter-finals set, there is an all too familiar look to the proceedings. Even compared to the big spending French Clubs, once again Ireland has punched well above its weight.

With just four teams in the competition Ireland has, and not for the first time, three teams into the final eight, Ulster, Munster and Leinster. This is a success rate of 75% when qualifying for the business end of the tournament.

France, on the basis of having seven teams in the pool stages, have just three teams in the quarters: Clermont, Toulon and Toulouse. This reflects a success rate of just 43%.

England were represented by six teams in this year’s tournament and have just two teams through to the quarter-finals (Saracens and Leicester) and those teams qualified as the 7th and 8th seeds for the play-offs. That represents a success rate of just over 33%.

Unfortunately and not for the first year, Wales and Scotland have no representatives in the knock-out stages of the Heineken. Apart from Italian teams, the Welsh and Scottish have been perennial under-achievers at European level. This is especially surprising for Wales given the success of their national team.

In fact if you look at performances in the Heineken Cup by country, over the past five tournaments, the picture is very much the same as this year. Since the 2009 – 10 season Wales have had only two teams qualify for the Heineken quarter-finals. In 2010 the Ospreys made it through and in 2012 Cardiff did likewise.

Wales like Ireland usually have three teams in the tournament and occasionally four representatives. On that basis the performances of the Welsh teams has been alarming poor.

Only one Scottish team has reached the quarter-finals since 2010 and that was Edinburgh in 2012. Having only two teams in the tournament is a mitigating factor. But again their record pales considerably when compared to Ireland who on occasion have had just three teams competing.

If you consider performances since 2010, England with a minimum of six teams and occasionally seven, has failed to live up to their billing. The average success rate of English clubs in qualifying for the play-offs is a mere 29%. That is disappointingly low from a Premiership that regards itself as a rival to the Top 14 league and of a higher quality than the Pro 12.

The French, whose commitment en block to the tournament is sometimes conditional, usually qualify a number of teams for the quarters. Of course like England they operate off six and sometimes seven participants. But their quarter-final qualification rate averages out at 48% over the past five years, which is just above this year’s success rate.

But at the end of the day Ireland are by far the most successful country in reaching the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup. In the past five years Ireland have had a success rate of 68%.

Ireland’s success in the tournament comes as no surprise when you consider Irish teams have won six Heineken Cups since the tournament’s inception and that includes five of the last eight titles.

With Ulster, Munster and Leinster through to this year’s knock-out stages it is very likely that an Irish team will have some say in the destination of the trophy.

Heineken Cup QF Qualification Success Rate (2010 – 2014):

Ireland – 68%

France – 48%

England – 29%

Wales – 12%

Scotland – 10%

Italy – 0%