Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll impressed by SA teams in Champions Cup

Irish legend Brian O'Driscoll impressed by SA teams in Champions Cup

Ireland great Brian O'Driscoll has hailed the SA sides' performances in the Champions Cup with the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers all in line to make the last 16.

The inclusion of the three South African sides to the top flight of European rugby was met with some criticism, but the trio have enjoyed a rapid start to their Champions Cup journeys. The Sharks booked their place in the knockouts, while the Stormers and Bulls are on the verge of doing the same this weekend.

Addressing the controversy around the South African teams' inclusion in the competition, O'Driscoll suggested that a possible name change could be in order for the tournament but hailed the South Africans' performances so far.

"It would mean that their inclusion [has been] pretty good, right? I think there's a number of factors”some people are like, 'This isn't Europe,'" O'Driscoll told Mirror Sport. "And maybe they need to call it an alternative competition to allow for Europe and South Africa."

"I don't have an alternative name for it," he continued. "Because it's like the Eurovision with Australia in it, y'know? It's not what we're used to. I suppose change is always less palatable for some people, but what they have done is brought competitiveness.

"Particularly at home. The Bulls obviously sent a pretty poor team to Exeter [a 44-14 loss in December] but yet managed to turn them over at home [39-28 in January]. We know the South African teams are going to be very good at home, and this format probably suits that very well to get into the last 16."

"You could easily have three South African teams qualify in Year One."

"Which I think would speak volumes for their quality," he added.

While the three-time Champions Cup winner spoke highly of the three teams, he is aware of the challenges their inclusion has created.

The South African sides have regularly spoken of the 40-hour trips via Doha to feature in matches. O'Driscoll conceded that there would be teething issues that would hopefully be ironed out in coming seasons.

"It doesn't seem like it makes an awful lot of sense in the long term, does it? This is definitely a teasing-out period," he said.

"I think we're finding out what's gonna work, like any new competition.

"And hopefully, things will settle; be it format, be it the South Africans' travel [or] aligning with the domestic leagues. . .it's a steep learning curve currently."

The travel issues mean that the new additions to the competition will likely miss out on a chance of hosting semi-finals.

The EPCR confirmed to The42 that the South African clubs could earn home round-of-16 and quarter-final games. But if any of them reach the semi-finals and have earned a 'home' fixture in the last four, that game would take place in Europe.

"This position may be reviewed if two South African clubs happen to meet in a semi-final," EPCR added.

The EPCR added that this is in place for the 'foreseeable' future.

The final round of the pool stages sees the Bulls clash with Lyon on Friday evening. The Sharks head to the Stoop on Saturday to take on Harlequins and later in the day, the Stormers host Clermont.