BEFORE it even kicks off, there is one way in which the coming season is sure to be preferable, and in a sense superior, to the one that is about to come to a belated end.

Namely, this time both Glasgow and Edinburgh will compete in the Champions Cup.

Edinburgh are still in the 2019-20 Challenge Cup, of course, and their players and coaches will spend some time in the build-up to Saturday’s quarter-final against Bordeaux-Begles trying to persuade us of the importance of that match and of the competition as a whole.

It is certainly important for them, in the sense that they could do with a good performance after the disappointment of their PRO14 semi-final defeat by Ulster. But in the wider scheme of things the Challenge Cup lags so far behind the Champions Cup in importance as to be virtually invisible.

The relationship is akin to the one in European football between the Champions League and the Europa League, and another level of similarity will be added in season 2020-21, when some teams from the pool stage of the Champions Cup drop down into the Challenge Cup.

More importantly, though, there is a crucial difference between the way the two sports administer their continental competitions. In football you have to qualify on merit for the Europa League, fighting your way to fifth, sixth or seventh place in some cases, in top flights which have serious quality in depth. In rugby you qualify for the Challenge Cup simply by being one of the professional teams who have failed to get into the Champions Cup.

Almost every side in the PRO14, English Premiership and French Top 14 is in one or other competition. That is understandable given the small number of professional rugby clubs compared to football, but it is nonetheless a prizes-for-everyone approach which is perhaps too forgiving towards failure.

It has been common for clubs to field weakened sides in the Challenge Cup and concentrate on their league instead. After all, what is more important: going far in the subsidiary competition, or doing well enough in their domestic competition to qualify for the main event in the following season? 

The two are not mutually exclusive, as Edinburgh have shown this season by topping Conference B in the PRO14 while reaching the last eight in the Challenge Cup. But forced to choose, a sizeable majority of clubs would surely favour the league.

When it comes to the PRO14 - or the PRO12 as it may again be called this coming season as a result of the two South African teams dropping out - the fact there is no relegation detracts further from the prestige of the teams it sends to the Challenge Cup. You can have an abysmal season, finishing last in your conference with barely a win to your name, but you’ll still be back in the league next season, with a place in Europe to boot.

There are understandable administrative reasons for the PRO14 being the way it is, but surely few if any sporting justifications. Some argue that, freed from the fear of relegation, teams tend to play a more entertaining and attacking game, but there is considerable evidence to the contrary. 

Edinburgh, for example, while having played more expansively this season, spent much of the preceding six or seven years playing in a more limited style. Their style would not have been any more carefree if they had been in danger of demotion, but they might just have played with an extra edge born of urgency.

Similarly, some of that urgency could well be on show if teams had to fight their way into the Challenge Cup rather than qualifying by right. If, in other words, it was more of an actual challenge to get into the thing.

That would require a change to the number of teams in the competition, as well as to its format, but it might just enhance its prestige. Until that happens, a lot of us will continue to welcome seasons such as the coming one, in which we can happily ignore the Challenge Cup entirely.

Needless to say, should Edinburgh beat Bordeaux at the weekend and go on to win the thing, we reserve the right to change our opinion entirely. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves . . .