Home tie finally confirmed after week of uncertainty
WELL we got there in the end. After a week of confusingly conflicting news stories, press releases and a last-gasp defeat for the Cornish Pirates in Belfast on Friday night, Ian Davies' troops finally secured a home draw in the quarter final as results on Saturday afternoon went their way.
London Scottish, the big threat to the Pirates' ambitions failed in their bid to scupper Cornish hopes as they were shot down at home by London Welsh. Then in a final dramatic twist in that very same qualifying group, Welsh side Pontypridd stole up on the rails to eliminate both London sides as they beat Edinburgh Academicals at Sardis Road.
It has been an exciting climax to the group stage but you would be forgiven for not knowing and the rank confusion surrounding what happens next is borne out of a mess which only the RFU could preside over.
A year ago the quarter-final draw was decided by the playing record in the group stage of the eight qualifiers. That had been changed for this season but very few of the clubs participating in the competition seemed to have realised.
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Everybody I spoke to had a slightly different take on what would happen next and even Pirates boss Ian Davies was caught up in the confusion after the win against Ayr last week, initially thinking that a home quarter-final was already in the bag and then 24 hours later realising that it wasn't.
We now have eight teams ready to do battle when the competition resumes in April and there are some real heavyweight contenders left. Some pundits are claiming that they already know the make-up of the four ties in the next round with the Pirates allegedly at home to Munster in a repeat of the inaugural final of 2010.
But the RFU have stated that there will be a draw at HQ on January 27, with home seeded teams apparently in one hat and away teams in another.
As I have now reached a stage where I am, quite frankly, losing the will to live in respect of the administration of this competition, I am happy to wait for news on that day.
I can't think of any major sporting tournaments where such confusion reigns at a time of crucial fixtures, and maybe it is the fault of the clubs for not acknowledging the change in the competition structure from the outset. Maybe it wasn't made clear enough to them and perhaps the message should have been reinforced before we got to last weekend.
The truth will be out there somewhere, but life is way too short for me to spend precious time looking for it. Hopefully lessons will be learnt and this muddle will be avoided next year and fortunately, it seems, there were no qualifying casualties from the rule changes.
We can now go back to several weeks of league action safe in the knowledge that along with the Pirates, the trio of Leinster, Bristol and Leeds will also play at home in the next round. And on the road, and in no particular order, will be Plymouth Albion, Munster, Pontypridd and Rotherham Titans.
Any one of these teams could win the cup and believe me they all really want to too, so things could get tasty in the spring. But if I have somehow muddled the list of contenders above please be gentle and tell me quietly. A quiet darkened room would be the only place for me to spend the rest of the season.