Wasps bitter about easy path for Irish into Europe

Wasps should be feeling pleased with themselves as they prepare for the first step of their Heineken Cup title defence against Biarritz this weekend. Positively flying in the Premiership, the European champions will have the England wing Josh Lewsey back on Sunday if he makes it through this evening's second-string game against Oxford University. Instead, they are muttering dark words about inequality, injustice and the glaring absence of a level playing field in the competition that has pushed back the frontiers of professional rugby in the northern hemisphere.

Warren Gatland, their director of rugby, took advantage of yesterday's tournament gathering in West London to express his disappointment at landing in a group containing Leicester - no mean European campaigners themselves - as well as the brilliant Basques, who look seriously threatening after signing Damien Traille and Imanol Harinordoquy from Pau. Gatland thought he and his men might have been rewarded with an even break after their breathtaking triumph over Toulouse in last season's final at Twickenham. In the event, they have been well and truly suckered.

But the real gripe concerned the disparity between clubs from England, France and Italy, all of whom qualify for the tournament from their domestic leagues, and the provincial, regional and district sides from the three Celtic countries, some of whom do not have to qualify at all. The most pointed comments were aimed at Ireland, where the national union nominates the country's participants irrespective of performance.

"There is still a discrepancy over qualification, and it should be addressed," said Wasps' captain, Lawrence Dallaglio. "Every year, the English clubs find themselves in a dilemma. In revenue terms, the most important thing for any club is to secure a place in the Heineken for the following season - something that is largely achieved through performance in the Premiership. That means the domestic championship is every bit as important as Europe, with teams having to win week-in, week-out. It is very difficult to target a Heineken Cup campaign in isolation.

"Yet some other teams are able to do precisely that, to put all their resources and efforts into winning the European title. Why? Because they know at the start of each tournament that they will be back again the following season. The likes of Munster are in this position every year. The only advantage from our perspective is that the standard of rugby in the Premiership prepares us well for the challenges of playing in Europe."

Wales, with three places each season, and the Scots with two, at least accept the principle that teams should qualify through the Celtic League. Much to the frustration of the Heineken Cup's administrative body, European Rugby Cup Ltd, the Irish hold firm. They regard one of their four provincial teams, Connacht, as a developmental side, and have no intention of sanctioning their entry into the elite competition, however well they might play. As far as the Irish Rugby Football Union are concerned, the die is cast: Leinster, Munster and Ulster in the Heineken Cup, Connacht in the Challenge Cup.

"We would prefer it if everyone had to qualify," admitted Derek McGrath, the chief executive of ERC. "We have asked the Celtic League to report back to us on this, but they are having their own struggle." The fun and games will begin if Connacht win the Challenge Cup, for they would then qualify for the following season's Heineken as of right, leaving the IRFU to dump one of their favoured provinces.

¿ Steve Thompson, the Northampton hooker, is expected to be out for at least three weeks after damaging his ribs on Saturday.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee