Dead Parrot Sketch

So, its come to this. The French clubs are back in the fold, helped by a shove from the union, their long-term intentions as unclear as ever – they said the RCC fiasco was a way for them to get what they wanted, but we aren’t sure what they actually want.

  • More money? Seems unlikely – French clubs earn more at home. It would be nice, but hardly a reason to join McCafferty’s revolution. Unless its all about permanently de-stabilizing Europe – that would earn them more money – see option 3 below.
  • Less Rabo teams? Well, the structure sans les Rosbifs is apparently the entire Rabo league, 6 Frenchies and 2 composite whipping boys from Spain and Portugal, with the Amlin Vase gone. Pretty unsuccessful way to make qualification more meritocratic (should that be “meritocratic”? Not sure)
  • Top16? This is what we think. Discredit and destabilize Europe enough that a Top16 becomes a safety line for French clubs. Playing the long game

With the pliant UK media going as overboard as ever (the Grauniad didn’t report on the French clubs leaving on Thursday, then headlined it on Friday with “French U-turn jeopardises European rugby” – yeah, its the French who have done the jeopardising…), PR have air cover for their intransigence, with little public questioning of their strategy and long-term ambitions (bar Martyn Thomas calling for McCafferty’s head on a plate). And little detail  on the minutiae of the BT contract either.

The increasingly woeful utterances by PR are an embarrassment to English rugby:

  • Its us and the French!
  • Its us and the Welsh!
  • Its us and the South Africans!
  • Its us and … er … financial oblivion!

Its basically the Dead Parrot Sketch – this RCC is very much alive sir!

McCafferty’s latest is to insist the English aren’t coming back and is being reduced to saying the Premiership will be better as teams can play all their players instead of saving them for Europe (I thought it was only Rabo clubs that could do this?).  The risk now is the unhappy Welsh regions actually try and force their unions hand and try and join an expanded Premiership – its what they want, and it might actually make them financially viable.

The situation is still pretty fluid – a HEC with 12 Rabo teams and some PIGS seems unlikely to work, and PR aren’t going to go away. PR aren’t completely isolated yet, the RFU are reluctantly yoked to them, and the Welsh clubs are enthusiastic about games against English clubs. Bottom line for Ireland – short of the English coming back to the fold unconditionally, nothing is good news.

Its unclear how European club rugby will look in 5 years, but if there is a Top16 and some Welsh clubs in the Premiership, Irish rugby will struggle massively – Eddie wrote a nice piece on the questionable long-term benefits of Irish provinces dominating the Pro12. The HEC has been a stunning success in the last decade, but, paradoxically, that has alerted the English and French to the market for more and higher-quality rugby. If you can’t beat the Irish provinces on the pitch, why not remove their lifeline to top-class rugby and tempt the players to join your clubs?

The parallels with soccer in the 1990s are increasing – the governing bodies never directly conceded to a European super league, but the clubs pushed the envelope so far on Champions League expansion, they got one by proxy. The RFU and WRU can’t ignore the next tier of rugby in England and Wales – the Great Schism of nearly 120 years ago is still hard-wired into rugby union administration (recall professionalism was conceded to avoid loss of control 100 years after the first schism) and splits will be avoided at all costs.

This isn’t really about the HEC, its about power and money – the bell might have been rung on the HEC, and, as Eddie would say, you can’t un-ring it. The prospect of expanded French and Anglo-Welsh competitions might have moved a little closer – lets hope the Irish don’t end up relying on the Scots, Italians and the rest of Europe for games. We’re no closer to a long-term resolution, but the danger signals for Ireland remain at DEFCON 1.

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34 Comments

  1. great entry to start my day

  2. @Completebore

     /  December 3, 2013

    I hope this leads to some tempering of enthusiasms over the demise of the RCC. While I’m glad the PR clubs were blocked eventually, the situation is no clearer than it was before. Until there’s a new accord in place for all six nations with at least two (preferably three) tiers of competiton I’m not going to get too excited.
    I think the English are looking for a way out, but BT Sport may not let them. Some concessions to the governance would probably help, and would probably not be the worst thing for the competition.
    I wonder how long the Welsh would survive in an expanded Aviva (assuming the relegation that is the cornerstone of the competition would be retained). And I also wonder would the PR clubs really be interested in this – it would drive some huge short-term interest, but they would be voting for less spots at the top table.

  3. Buccaneer

     /  December 3, 2013

    This could be a disaster not only for Ireland but for Scotland and Italy too. I think its safe to say the welsh region experiment failed. Granted the Ospreys won the league four times but their galatico squad in its pomp should have been more competitive in Europe. The old clubs would probably be happy to enter into a 2/3 tier anglo-welsh league.

    What remains of the pro 12 is probably neither economically or competitively viable. A case might be made for creating a league with Scottish and Irish clubs but I don’t think the money would be there to keep top players in Ireland. We could end up like the situation in soccer where players have no domestic (pseudo-domestic) professional league to play in and no indigenous professional structures to help young players develop.

    The future is bleak indeed

  4. scaffino@yahoo.com

     /  December 3, 2013

    I think the best solution ultimately (and probably completely unlikely) would be to merge the Pro12 and Aviva. You could create two divisions with promotion, and allow the English clubs to have further promotion beneath that if they so chose. The Italian teams would probably be better off playing in the French leagues logistically but could work either way. Set up a governing body to oversee the thing that would be independent of the Clubs and Unions to a degree.

    All a pipe dream, would require too much agreement and common sense.

    • Jimbob

       /  December 3, 2013

      I thought of this too and it would make for a much more competitive and interesting league but I just can’t see it happening. The english would probably get their panties in a twist again when the Celtic teams start dominating the top league in terms of victories and number of teams.
      Who’s propose it anyway? McCafferty certainly wouldn’t, the Celtalians would need to all be in agreement but are unlikely to be seen sucking up to the PRL (unless its RRW).

      It would be a good way though for everyone to combat the financial clout of the Top 14 but you’re right it would require far too much common sense, reason and agreement.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  December 3, 2013

      You could set it up like the NFL, two divisions side by side, play offs, divisional champion, crowned by the McCaffery bowl at the end

  5. There is a serious issue in rugby trying to balance the commercial interests & developing the sport. There’s still a desire within the unions to get more countries up to professional level in XV’s and if that consideration is not kept front & centre we could very well see the death of professional XV’s in Europe outside of France & England. With the addition of rugby 7’s to the Olympics, countries without existing professional club structures could end up *only* going pro with 7’s & leave the XV’s structures entirely amature.
    Neither the PRL nor the LNR truly give a toss about what happens to rugby union outside their own sandpits, they don’t see any benefit to growing the sport through the national unions, this is extremely short-sighted of them. If rugby can get to professional status in countries like Spain, Portugal, Georgia & Romania then the TV audience grows exponentially & thus the value of TV deals increases as well, even if the unions are taking a share of the proceeds the clubs would still get increased pay-outs.
    In Italy rugby is being pitched as the sport to watch with your family, soccer has become far too dangerous for people to bring their kids to professional matches, so rugby is attacking that niche in the market.

  6. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  December 3, 2013

    3 of the Irish provinces appear to be in rude health; it’s really the Welsh who are the sick men of Europe, well the Pro12 anyway. I don’t follow the in-fighting and back-stabbing that is Welsh rugby politics to pretend to know what is going on there. Is the WRU trying to starve the regions into submission so they can take them over and run them in a centralised fashion like the IRFU? It looks like the Welsh regions view joining the AP as some sort of panacea that will cure all their ills, but if they can’t compete in the Pro12, they won’t be able to compete in the AP either.

    if the Welsh teams could sort themselves out, I think the Pro12 could hold its head up to the AP and T14, for matters on the pitch anyway. Six or so good sides, Glasgow and Treviso ranging between very good to competitive, and the rest. That sort of strength profile is at least as good as the AP and T14.

    • The view is that Welsh regions will get many more fans on board for games vs English .. and we buy into that tbh

      • @Completebore

         /  December 3, 2013

        I can see an inital surge of excitement (few irish sports people can deny the allure of trying to beat the english at anything) but I do wonder how many hidings they’ll take before the existing skeptism about the shoe-horned regions reasserts itself. Unless they found a way to re-introduce the clubs, but I doubt they have the players in numbers to step back up to that, especially if Bernard Jackman was correct on Off The Ball last night and the Scarlets were using semi-pro players on the weekend.

        • Young back named Lewis made his debut against Leinster, otherwise all definitely contracted players. Mortifyingly, when beating Connacht the previous week they used a semi-pro prop off the bench.

      • Amiga500

         /  December 3, 2013

        If that were the case, why is the Anglo-Welsh cup an afterthought for both players and supporters?

        The Welsh would do well to remember the adage; “the grass is always greener”….

      • L.P.O.

         /  December 3, 2013

        Sorry LPO, but I’ve trashed this. Try and keep it civil. Egg

        • L.P.O.

           /  December 3, 2013

          Aww… that was golden and historically accurate. Plus, I put a lot of effort into my phonetic Welsh acc-ccent, boyo. Well, I’ll go on record, as civilly as I can manage, as saying the Welsh behaviour is utterly consistent throughout the ages, and as they are technically part of England, that’s where they should play… and merge the test teams too, as Wales is not a nation, they should be excluded from the 6N. They should play with their Saxon overlords as they do in the cricket, and the wendyball, which is actually the most popular sport in taffland, despite what they claim.

          In short: Wales- not a country, not a nation, not that pushed about rugby any more, can no longer sing either, and not to be trusted.

          Where that leaves us: a certain creek at the moment, without a certain implement… do the taffies care about us, the Scots or the Italians? Sure, they sell themselves down the river at every opportunity- you can’t expect them to develop qualities of pride or solidarity when it comes to Italoceltic rugby. That’s not how they roll. But I do agree that for a pseudo-country that bangs on about rugby being their (pseudo-)national sport, they have brought NOTHING to the league. Empty stadiums and misery.

          I’ll leave you with one anecdote… Jerry Pint-o-Plain Collins was somehow convinced to sign for the Ospreys, probably bought all that stuff about a club going places with a serious rugby public. Early season game at the Liberty… Leinster roll into town, fresh European Crown glistening…. perfect day for rugby… countless internationals and Lions on display… champs against your home team. And they get 4 men and a dog to show up.

          But not only were they few, they were also miserable. They booed Leinster as we entered the pitch and from the off… and after 20 minutes when we firmly had the upper hand, they started booing their own team.

          In an interview after the match, a rather gormless taffess reporter asked Jerry Collins if he felt the he and the Ospreys were letting the supporters down with a performance of that nature.

          And Jerry replied, ‘No, not at all. They’d have to show up for us to let them down.’

          Pretty much sums what the Welsh as a whole have brought to the league from day 1.

          • abitofshoepie

             /  December 4, 2013

            The Welsh see Cardiff and Swansea doing well in the English soccerball league, fans singing bread of heaven and filling the grounds. Rugby will follow the same model.

      • Mike

         /  December 4, 2013

        Have you seen the Anglo Welsh tho?

  7. Ultra Sur

     /  December 3, 2013

    IRFU need to move on getting into bed with the English right now if they hadn’t done it months ago (as they should have).

  8. Len

     /  December 3, 2013

    Total pie in the sky stuff but what I think would work best would be two European leagues structures with the same structure, Home Nations and French+Italian’s. Inclusion in the top or second division of the leagues would be based on placement in your existing league so in the final year of the current competitions the top 6/8 teams from the Pro12 would be divided between the top home nations league and mainland Euro league with the rest going into the second division. The same would apply to the AP and Top 14. Qualification there after would be on a promotion/demotion basis. A 16 team single leg knock out competition would replace the HC. Team 1 in the Home nation would be pitted against team 8 in the Euro, with teams 1-4 gaining home advantage in the first round. 1-3 Similarly structured cups could be put in place for the lower teams guaranteeing everyone European Cup rugby at some level. This would also provide additional TV options i.e. sky cover cup 1 BT cup 2 etc. A central body could be created to centrally govern both the league structures and the cups and the 6N something like Uefa. Caps on foreign players should be included as this is the only way to strengthen the national teams of each constituent country.

  9. hulkinator

     /  December 3, 2013

    I’ve been reading about this for years now and it is indeed not a great situation for Ireland to be in. Irish teams have been too successful. The Welsh threat to Ireland (along with Scotland and Italy) should be a massive wake up call.

    It time the rabo unions were more proactive. I think they need to seriously think about setting up a second division and invite teams from across Europe in. It won’t be easy to manage and will cost money in the short term but if you had a growing European league it would guarantee security. Rugby is growing throughout Europe and you have the example of the Catalan dragons playing rugby league. League isn’t as popular as union.

    The league only needs 10 teams anyway. That would mean they don’t have to play during the international window which means stronger teams.

    Theres also the option of having more international matches. If the provinces are starved of games then more people would be willing to go to see international rugby especially with the reduced capacity Aviva stadium.

    As for the Welsh. I think they should be booted out at first opportunity. They’ve always done nothing but complain about the Celtic/Magners/Rabo league and now their teams are becoming less competitive. Not all the Welsh are like that but the negativity from Wales is overwhelming. The Irish, Scots and Italians just get on with it for the most part.

  10. Ro

     /  December 3, 2013

    Cant see Wray & co agreeing to let the Pro 12 teams join the AP especially as it would relegate a lot of the PRL teams in the process. The TOP14 will expand to TOP16 and this has always been the desire of the LNR which is why they wanted a scaled back HC. The Welsh regions are a mess and look unsustainable in their current form. The Scots can only supply one competitive team and the Italians are still struggling to do that. We fall in between two stools. We are competitive in Europe but that has created some sort of loathing, especially from the PRL who see the Irish success as being built on English money, their money! I truely believe the game is going to be torn apart by this. Its all about control of the game in Europe and if the Unions relenquish control to the clubs the games development will suffer and the International game (the big money earner) will be next in the clubs owners sights. They will own all the players so why not get control of the International game as well. It looks like Ireland will become a semi pro backwater with an7y player of substance being whisked abroad to the ‘money leagues’ much like soccer.

    • Ro

       /  December 3, 2013

      One other thing. The next big fight in French rugby is whether to limit the number of foreign players per team. The smaller clubs want it (need it to compete), the bigger ones dont. The traditional French league is suffering because of it and many fans are unhappy with the hoovering up of talent and the trophies by the ‘sugar daddies’.

  11. Len

     /  December 3, 2013

    Have the welsh teams served notice to the Pro12? Don’t they need to give 3 years notice or did I just make that number up? If that’s the case then they’re tied to the Pro12 until after the next WC and who knows what euro rugby will look like by then

    • Jimbob

       /  December 3, 2013

      I’ve read it’s 2 years although I’m unsure if that was from a reliable source.

    • Lop12

       /  December 3, 2013

      Its the Welsh union (WRU) is contracted to the Pro 12, not the clubs (RRW), so WRU needs to provide clubs to the Pro12 but nothing to dictate it must be the regions, could nominate Pontypridd etc…

      • Amiga500

         /  December 3, 2013

        They might actually get more success that way. The regions are incredibly poorly supported given that rugby is supposedly the “national game” of Wales.

        • Stevo

           /  December 3, 2013

          The regions are poorly supported, but that’s based on the idea that combined support from the regional supporter bases would provide much bigger crowds than they have. Would the individual Welsh clubs be able to provide bigger crowds on their own?

          • L.P.O.

             /  December 3, 2013

            Here’s a side note, though… if the Welsh did all sod off to play with the English and we were left with the Italians and the Scots… yes, we’d all certainly suffer at all levels short-term in all the ways described… but if someone with a brain took over the SRU maybe, as we would need teams, they’d have the sense to bring back the Borders, for example… I know they’ve been struggling with two teams, but with a proper set up they should be able to run at least three competitively. And the Italians are getting better and want another team, most likely based in Rome. We’d have a ten-team league for a while, perhaps… might be a bit thin, but the numbers will certainly come in Italy, where given time they could expand again, and Scotland run well could be a different animal altogether. You can but dream.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  December 3, 2013

            @LPO, add in Russian, Spanish, Georgian, Portuguese selections and you have a league

          • Bowe Gathers

             /  December 4, 2013

            I lived and played in Scotland for four years – their issue is money, in a major way. This stems from a small playing pool: we’re lucky in Ireland that soccerball is played by a comparative few. It’s the number one game in Scotland, and this means the rugby population is smaller.

            Couple that with the ugly truth that it’s still the privilege of a handful of (largely Edinburgh based) private schools to play really competitive rugby and then you have a class issue, something we take less seriously here, particularly in Munster.

            Add these to the fact that to play at any level these days you have to be either a gym nut or be able to take hits from gym nuts and their pool is tiny, their clubs are shrinking and their cash flow is totally inadequate for the two teams they do have, let alone one more.

          • L.P.O.

             /  December 4, 2013

            Ah, but Bowe G., the wendyball here also competes with the hurling and football… rugby was 4th field sport for a good stint… Scotland, similar population, don’t really have that problem… but they looked to work on the basis of population and try and introduce rugby into samanthaball-mad Glasgae as a goer rather than to support the less-populated heartland that was the Borders. Rugby’s a middle-class game in Scotland with the exception of the Borders… they bet on converting Glaswegians to give up the nancyball at the expense of the one area where rugby ruled outside the posh schools and universities. That should have been nurtured. Nothing wrong with seeking the gates and trying to be populist to get more folk interested (IRFU work in the other direction), however, I dothink they got their priorities wrong. I sincerely hope the voice of Bill Mc.Laren haunts them every night.

  12. contraflow

     /  December 4, 2013

    First option the 4 home unions combine into two conferences and play off at season end. New teams can be admitted if they are of a certain standard similar to NFL on-boarding new franchises. Conferences can be added if enough new teams are suitable for entry in the competition. Franchises not up to scratch can be moved to other locations.

    Second option, if the Welsh and English were to combine leaving us out in the cold. I would see another franchise league based on how Pro12 currently runs i.e. one conference and season end play-offs with the following teams:
    Edinburgh
    Glasgow
    Belfast
    Dublin East
    Dublin West
    Galway
    Limerick
    Cork
    Treviso
    2nd Italian franchise: Milan/Rome/any other Italian city that meets the standard
    Basque team: Barcelona/San Sebastian/Bilbao
    Welsh/English franchise??? Can a franchise be set up in London or Cardiff and play in another league? Could London Irish be enticed to defect to the Pro 12, would that be legal?

    • contraflow

       /  December 4, 2013

      Yikes… left out first paragraph from above.. here it is:

      Two models I would like to see. Both based on the NFL franchise system, the most successful sports league in the world, despite having the shortest of seasons. If a team doesn’t qualify for the play-offs it will only have 8 home games in a season. The lesson is… less is more. Keep the game quality high not the amount teams and games.

  13. contraflow

     /  December 4, 2013

    If the Pro12 is abolished I think there is a case for having an Irish only league. This would be a pro-league with perhaps some semi-pro players. Alternatively, all pro but at much diminished rates of pay than currently available to the players, therefore unfortunately we would likely lose the higher profile players.

    Teams for an Irish pro league:

    1. Galway
    2. Athlone
    3. Belfast
    4. Ulster Counties
    5. Cork
    6. Limerick
    7. Dublin North
    8. Dublin South
    9. Dublin West
    10. Leinster Counties

    Possibly a second Belfast team and a Munster Counties team could be added if the above teams prove viable.

    • abitofshoepie

       /  December 4, 2013

      Really looking forward to seeing ulster counties playing Dublin west at the brandy well/shamrock park/a field near Omagh…

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