This weekend in the Pro14, Edinburgh face Glasgow in a significant game for the Pro14 standings. Edinburgh are currently third in Conference B, with Glasgow top of Conference A. However, while Glasgow are sitting pretty seven points clear of second, just four points separate Edinburgh and Ulster.
Speaking to the media yesterday, Glasgow head coach Richard Cockerill responded to suggestions that his side should deliberately allow their Scottish counterparts win. He joked if that was the case, something similar should happen in Ireland.
Richard Cockerill on suggestions Glasgow will roll over and allow Edinburgh to win to let them into the play/offs as both owned by SRU: “Me and Dave Rennie haven’t got a gentleman’s agreement.Maybe the Irish should have a look at Ulster and Munster game if that’s the case.”
— Rob Robertson (@SDM_Robertson) April 24, 2018
The reason for this is thanks to the new Pro14 qualifying system, Ulster and Edinburgh look likely to scrap out a place for Europe. Under the new system, the top three from Conference A and Conference B automatically qualify for Europe. A seventh spot goes to the winner of a play-off between the fourth-placed teams, currently Ulster and Ospreys.
This weekend Munster play Ulster, with Munster already nine points clear in conference A. To clarify, even though South African side the Cheetahs are third in that conference they cannot qualify for the Champions Cup, so fourth becomes third meaning Cardiff qualify in the automatic position.
The situation is incredibly complex should Leinster win the Champions Cup.
In accordance with a decision of the EPCR Board comprising the nine unions, federations and league bodies, the 20th place in the Champions Cup will be determined as follows:
i) Champions Cup winner, if not already qualified
ii) Challenge Cup winner, if not already qualified
iii) Challenge Cup losing finalist, if not already qualified
iv) Play-off match between the losing Challenge Cup semi-finalists, if not already qualified
v) Highest ranked non-qualified club by virtue of league position from the same league as the Champions Cup winner
So in layman's terms, if Newcastle, Gloucester and Pau all finish in the top six (Pau are currently in seventh, Gloucester in sixth) and Leinster win the Champions Cup then Ulster would not require a playoff. However, given the variables it looks likely they will, at the very least, need a playoff to qualify for Europe.
Financially it would be a hindrance for the northern province should they not make the Champions Cup. Already they have failed to make it out of their group in Europe for the past two years. Ulster's other chance of automatic qualification would come with a bonus point win away to Munster this weekend and a loss for Edinburgh.