What The Fans Want

So finally, the saga is over. The HEC is gone, and will be replaced by the RCC, with a sop ‘E’ at the start to appease the likes of us who resent giving the moneymen full control of rugger. Qualification will be Mastercard merit-based, with six teams from Le Top Quatorze and the Ooooooooooooooohh Boshiership, seven teams from the Pro12 (including one from each country) then a playoff winner, initially featuring the seventh placed teams in England and France.

More importantly, there is a bigger pot for the clubs in England and France, which is being paid for by … us! Because if you want to watch the ERCC next season, you’ll need a subscription to Sky and BT – excellent news… for them. In the race to pat the backs of the club-owners it seems to have been forgotten that ‘TV money’ doesn’t just fall off a tree, it is paid by TV viewers.

Ultimately, it’s a big win for the English (and to a lesser extent, the French) clubs, who’ve pretty much been given everything they asked for; redistribution of monies, tournament structure and the running of the competition.  Governance is re-vamped, with the commercial side being run by the clubs, and the organisation itself by the unions.  Ultimately, who knows how this carve-up will work?  It’s a big unknown.  The Amlin will become the ERCC2 – the first C stands for Challenge – and will feature the remaining clubs, provinces and regions from the three leagues who don’t qualify.

How about the provinces?  First, the good news, and it’s not all terrible.  For a start, at least there is some European rugby to play, which didn’t always look certain.  And for another, meritocratic qualification from the Pro12 may have been the red herring on which the whole ugly saga was founded, but it is ultimately a positive.  It’s hard to envisage a situation where the Big Three from Ireland won’t qualify, for the next few years at least and it won’t be beyond Connacht to squeeze into the last spot.  If the Welsh regions can get their house in order to be sufficiently competitive, then things might get a little heated around the middle of the table, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  The Pro12 stands to benefit.

The bad news?  Well, the biggest fear has to be that the tournament is now designed to service the clubs who’ve fought so vehemently, and at times underhandedly, for the changes.  Sure, Munster are needed to provide the showpiece games to draw in the punters (Sky have perfected the Hiberniores Hibernis ipsis tearful Saturday night Thomond Park narrative to such an extent that it has become one of the tournaments signatures), but they’re going to become a bauble that the English use to bump up prime-time telly income.  The English clubs long for the type of power and ability to attract players enjoyed by the Top Quatorze teams, and this at least moves them a step closer.  The IRFU have done a fine job in minimising the flight to France in the wake of a number of high-profile contract renewals this season, but if the English were to join in the bidding wars, it won’t make things any easier. Aside: one wonders, based on the importance of the provinces to the European cup (in terms of rugby and TV – they often occupyprime time), how hard a bargain the IRFU drove.

And, speaking of, the IRFU should have a bit of a re-think on its attitude to both investment in foreign players and its player welfare structures.  Currently, the Pro12 muddles along until the last five or six rounds, before the jostling for places begins in earnest.  Meritocratic qualification would stretch its importance out over the whole season.  If the Pro12 is to be treated as a serious business, with qualification for Europe hinging on it, then the provincial coaches will need access to their better players for more games.  This needn’t be a wholesale revision, rather a slight relaxing of the current rules.  One suggestion would be unlimited access to their full panel for the Christmas interpros, which should be high-profile, attractive matches, but end up being a phony war.  Same goes for NIE players, where the rules are continually being tightened (or so it would appear at least, it’s never all that clear).  If the Irish are to be required to fight on two fronts for the whole season then they will need the squad depth to do so. Unless of course (conspiracy theory alert) there is some dastardly plan to denude Connacht of their good players in return for B&I Cup dirt-trackers of course.

Many of the arguments put forward by the PRL owners UK media are so flimsy as to be paper-thin.  Stephen Jones tells us the club-owners are fine, manly and indeed perfectly upstanding (not to mention really, really good looking) gentlemen, who only have the best interests of their beloved rugby club at heart.  Well, they would, wouldn’t they, because they have a financial stake in them.  What about the broader game, which trickles down to grassroots level?  That’s the concern of the unions, easily painted by a willing media as a bunch of backwards-looking cigar-smoking blazer-wearing foie-gras munchers, but in reality they are the ones with the interests of the game at heart.  Handing over the reigns to the money-men is a dangerous business.

One line being peddled is that the new format will make the competition better and more competitive.  But it won’t, not by itself anyway.  Under the new structure, eight teams qualify from five pools, so now 60% of those finishing runner-up in the pool will qualify, as opposed to 33%.  The great thing about the old format was that you were required to win the pool or be reduced to hoping against hope.  The new format will have one less rubbish Italian team, but qualifying from the pool will be that bit easier and a bit more forgiving.

PRL lackey Kitson in the Grauniad triumphantly called the ERCC “a win for players and fans” – players, sure, if we count success only in pounds and euros; fans, er … no. Clearly Kitson doesn’t pay his own TV subscriptions, or give a hoot about the game for that matter. He even went as far as to call this rugby’s “1992 moment”, and celebrated the fact. Maybe he should talk to the soccer department of his own paper.  1992 was, of course, the year soccer began. Or the first year of the Premier League. Since then, player wages have gone through the roof, ticket prices have gone through the roof, many overreaching clubs have gone bankrupt, fans have become more and more alienated from their clubs, England have many less players to choose from and the best clubs are owned by oligarchs, oil barons, vulture funds and the like.

In the few years prior to 1992, Luton Town, Coventry, Wimbledon and Nottingham Forest won silverware, and Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday and Palace were in the shake up for the league title. Since then, its been dominated by the rich, who have got richer. That looks like the future for rugby in Europe, and it’s very worrying, and mighty depressing.

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41 Comments

  1. Sound Steve

     /  April 14, 2014

    I think there’s a bigger question here in what is the aim for Irish rugby. I think it is very hard to marry a successful national team with provincial success with our playing numbers and even harder to maintain it. We’ve had the days of successful provinces with big name signings and the national team suffered as a result, for example, the TH prop famine of 2012. In fairness, the IRFU seem to have been fairly decisive on this and favoured sustainable provinces ultimately contributing the goal of a successful national team and I, for one, am happy with this. I can’t see the glory days returning for the provinces again soon but as long as they are competitive and we have a potentially world-beating national team I will be happy. That is, as long as we don’t become Wales…

    Even further off topic, I think the interpros matter a lot more to the fans than the players themselves. The last few interpro games I’ve seen seem to have a distinct lack of intensity, on one side at least.

    • Stevo

       /  April 14, 2014

      Painting the upturn in the national team’s fortunes as the IRFU reaping the rewards for its policy on NIQ players is disingenuous to say the least. Joe Schmidt is the difference between Ireland 2012 and this year’s vintage. As for the Tighthead Famine of Oh Twelve, BJ Botha and John Afoa are still here. Martin Moore and Stephen Archer have come through since, one while competing against a big-name foreign signing, the other competing against the incumbent Irish first-choice, neither apparently stymied by their circumstances.

      I want the Irish team and the provinces to be competitive. That means actually being in with a chance of winning trophies, not occasionally putting it up to the big French or English teams. These aims do not have to be mutually exclusive.

      • Sound Steve

         /  April 14, 2014

        Well, I think there’s certainly a case for giving Joe too much credit for the recent success but I won’t get into that now. I would argue that the lessons learned on the TH crisis have led to credible alternatives sprouting in Archer, Moore, Fitzpatrick, etc. I don’t think it’s an accident that players like these have emerged. As we have seen in the last week, sometimes orders do come down from on high to give certain players game time and it is usually a good thing.

        I also believe that we can remain competitive. Although, I would hope that it is by producing our own talent rather buying in talent. I would expect we have at least a semi-finalist every year and another quarter-finalist, at a minimum, but we can’t be expected to compete with Toulon for the Habanas of the world. Those days are done and I’m glad they are.

    • Please, not this ridiculous, nonsensical line that was repeatedly served up during the Last Days of Deccie. Farrelly and the like were repeatedly trying to argue that provincial success was to the detriment of the national team, which made no sense then, and makes no sense now. The tighthead prop crisis was not a result of foreign players blocking outstanding incumbents; we just didn’t have any alternatives available.

      We now have some props to choose from, but not because anything’s changed. Afoa and Botha are still at Ulster and Munster, and Mike Ross is still the only Irishman regularly starting.

      • Sound Steve

         /  April 14, 2014

        Please give an example of a union, outside of NZ, with dominant provinces and a dominant national team. In the short term it’s possible in theory (England 01-03) but it doesn’t work in the medium to long-term, especially not with a relatively small pool of pros like we have.

        The intuition isn’t difficult to understand…

        • The intuition is indeed straightforward. Strong provinces feed into a strong national team. Obviously if the provinces are made up of 15 international ringers the logic falls down, but that’s never going to happen. Ireland won the Six Nations in 2009 and had two provinces in the semi-finals of the H-Cup, with Leinster eventually winning. Throughout the noughties, Ireland were strong, and the provinces, Munster especially, did well in the Heineken Cup.

          Gerry Thornley long cited strong provinces as eeding into a strong national team, but the likes of Farrelly and Conor George tried to change the narrative to suit their agenda when Kidney’s Irelnd were floundering at the same time a Schmidt’s Leinster were all-conquering, spearheaded by a vast contingent of superb, Irish qualified-players.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 14, 2014

            I respectfully disagree. In the short term , the momentum of a strong province can drive a nation or vice-versa. I’d cite Leinster and Ireland 2009 as a perfect example. Ireland win a grand slam and the confidence generated (and Rocky Elsom) propel Leinster to a HC win. That’s a three-month cycle. In the noughties, we certainly weren’t dominant from a provincial perspective despite a couple of Munster HC wins and we certainly weren’t dominant at international level, especially considering this was our golden generation. If you can create dominant teams from indigenous players, as in NZ, then it’s possible, but with NIQs you lose out in the long-term.

            For an example, look at the SH situation Ireland at the moment. First choices at the respective provinces are Murray, Pienaar (NIQ), Reddan (33), Marmion (seemingly untrusted by Schmidt/Kiss/Kidney, not sure why). Imagine a situation where Reddan retires at the end of next year and let’s say Murray gets injured. You have a 35 year old Isaac Boss as your starting SH going into the RWC. Without Pienaar, you only have Marshall and Heaney, hardly compelling alternatives, but I’d guess Ulster may look at Sheridan at Munster or McGrath or Cooney at Leinster if they had to have a IQ player. Given one of them a full season of HC rugby and you could well have a compelling alternative.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 14, 2014

            @Sound Steve so those seven super rugby titles for the ‘Saders, three for the Blues and recently two for the Chiefs and corresponding rise in player numbers from those successful teams backboning the Un-Zee national team(and national side reflecting said teams playing style) was just a coincidence? Or when the Bulls were all dominant, “Die Bulle” stocked national side and Bulls esque playing style was just a coincidence? Only Wales through the force of Gatty have managed to have meandering dog shit teams and a strong national side, they are an exception.

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 15, 2014

            Please read the above LL.

          • Mary Hinge

             /  April 15, 2014

            Not sure Marmion isn’t rated by JS Soundsteve. I expect him to tour Argentina this summer as backup to Conor Murray.

        • D6W

           /  April 15, 2014

          But why exclude NZ? If anything, they are the one country we should be trying to emulate (apart from their WC mid-cycle choke). The only real difference is that they have more provincial/Super 15 franchises), and a more coordinated system of ensuring their style of play feeds into national team.

          Both of these are within the IRFU’s capability to deliver, and maybe appointing this new director of Rugby will do the latter. The former is simple, by really backing Connaught as an equal to the other provinces. We don’t need Connaught as a feeder team, that is what the academies are for.

          • Not Michael Bent

             /  April 15, 2014

            This isn’t meant as a dig at Munster rugby, but I have put forward the theory before that the reason that it didn’t translate to the international team dominating was, at least in part, due to the lack of a holistic approach taken across the board in Irish rugby at the time.

            It was Munster with the 10 man rugby, passion, blah blah, Leinster with the show ponies, skill, blah blah, a very weak Ulster, a nearly folded Connacht, and then at the end of it, an Irish national team which didn’t seem to really have a relationship with them. I wouldn’t say I’d blame Eddie O’Sullivan, but I think the entrenched politics of it all meant that he was outside the provincial setups.

            Which basically meant that yes, Munster were good enough to win at provincial/club level, but that wasn’t good enough for international rugby, and the attempts to put the square pegs next to the round holes and play together were clumsy and didn’t excel. (we did get a couple of Triple Crowns so let’s not get too angry about it all).

            The difference now (hopefully) is that Joe is apparently engaging with the provincial set ups all the time, so the success of any province can be integrated and capitalised upon by the national team.
            I also believe the new National Director of Rugby position is an essential one, and if we pass around the collection plates in RDS and the Showgrounds, can we not convince Conor O’Shea to come home?

          • Sound Steve

             /  April 15, 2014

            I fully agree that NZ are who we should aspire to but the reason I exclude them is that they churn out enough world class players internally to provide world-class S15 squads and world-class national teams. Of course that’s the dream but we just don’t produce teams of Irish qualified players that are consistently capable of challenging for the HC. We have had an excellent Irish-based Munster team and an excellent Irish-based Leinster team but to use the NZ comparison, look at the Crusaders who consistently challenge for the S15.

        • So, Sound Steve, let’s get this right, outside of New Zealand most of the time, South Africa c.2009, England in 2001-2003, Ireland in 2009, you want us to provide an example of a country who were dominant and had strong provinces at the same time? Seems like a lot to exclude!

          And we’re to imagine a fantasy scenario where Eoin Reddan retires for some reason, even though he’s just had one of his best seasons, and consider that because of Ruan Pienaar playing for Ulster, we don’t have enough back-up, even though Pienaar is not affecting in any way a player good enough to play for Ireland (unless you think Marshall is, for some reason). This is bizarro stuff.

  2. Rocky

     /  April 14, 2014

    Not sure if you’re right Steve, if you look at numbers, at least. Here are some figures from Rugbyblogger and, while I can’t vouch for their accuracy, I see no reason to think they are too far off. Looking at total numbers and adult males, we have:
    England: 2,549,196 and 166,762
    France: 313,567 and 110,270
    Ireland: 153,080 and 25,440
    Italy: 66,176 and 15,848
    Wales: 50,557 and 22,408
    Scotland: 38,500 and 11,687
    New Zealand: 137,835 and 27,374
    If these numbers are more or less accurate, we are in a better situation than Wales or Scotland and our total suggests we are well ahead on youth and development. Really, we are about the same as the Kiwis and COULD be in the same ballpark in terms of international success. In addition, there is no reason why our provinces can’t continue to be successful as long as the IRFU continues to run the game well and invest in player development from minis to academies. I’m not as pessimistic as Whiff. The big two may well be able to buy in many big name players but there is a huge risk to their national sides and I suspect their paying public may not tolerate poor national performances (if that happens) for long. Perhaps the unions fell down by not making a stand to limit the number of imported players who could play in european matches? As for inter pros, I agree that we need to find a way of playing as many first line players as possible – and I do think they still matter to the players.

    • Sound Steve

       /  April 14, 2014

      In terms of playing numbers I’m not so much getting at the headline figures but more the number playing professional rugby. We have four teams and that’s fine but to use NZ as a comparison, they have the Super XV teams and then a very competitive ITM cup as well a host of ex-pats (not that they pick them). Their pool of pro players is a lot larger than ours.

  3. Paul

     /  April 14, 2014

    Those playing numbers include tag players so not as rosy as you think. That probably counts for 40k players.
    Also think that the rabo is taken seriously by the irfu and the provinces why else would the 3 main provinces be consistently be in the top 6. Need to give Connacht a few more resources to compete. Good that joe Schmidt and the management team consistently spend time down in Connacht now.

    • “Also think that the rabo is taken seriously by the irfu and the provinces why else would the 3 main provinces be consistently be in the top 6.”

      Not sure the logic works. You could argue that the competition are so mediocre that the Irish provinces can muddle throug the league and still make the top 6…

  4. LumberingForward

     /  April 14, 2014

    Good blog, agreed on PRL/English press disconnect with fans being forced to shell out for two subscriptions. I remember Shane Horgan saying on rte that the IRFU had gone out of their way to protect the likes of Wales, Scotland, Italy as well as themselves in the euro negotiations and after being deserted they’re probably going to be less prone to do so in future, and they should think about joining a better/richer league themselves (aka boshiership) if the opportunity comes up down the line. Any thoughts on that?

    On the bright side, at least 2 or 3 of the 6 moneybags French teams will presumably still be disinterested in Europe while the English are so used to blaming relegation/salary cap etc rather than addressing their actual problems that the provinces should still be right up there, even if their team bus isn’t a gold plated hummer limo with foie gras in the fridge. Desire goes a long way. Another encouraging thought is that even in America, whose rampant commercialism and megabucks PRL would love to emulate, you still see top players taking smaller salaries so they can stay and win with a team and teammates they care about.

  5. abitofshoepie

     /  April 14, 2014

    Choosing to ignore for now the need to fork out extra money to watch the games, the conduct of the ‘big’ english clubs, some of the clowns they have writing in their newspapers, and the gradual creep towards money ruining the game…………I actually think that the revamp is a good thing. We should see two stronger European competitions as well as a more competitive and interesting Pro 12.

    The issues with the HEC were that the team that got Zebre – or their previous incarnation – were almost guaranteed a home quarter…..although even the mighty all conqeuring all round good guys at Saracens cocked that one up this year. It was also maybe ‘unfair’ on the Zebras themselves.

    The Amlin was never watched as who cares if Worcester are travelling to a lowly Top 14 team? The relegation for the HEC to the Amlin should in theory make both stronger. If Ulster are playing in the new Amlin in a few seasons time it should be a strong enough competition to fill Ravers at the group stage.

    The real bonus is around the Pro-12. The Welsh might start to turn up now, putting a bit more spark into the league than has been seen in the last few seasons. Other local rivalries will become a bit tastier….Glasgow/Edinburgh and Treviso/Zebre duking it out for a place at the big table. Unfortunately the cost is extra strain on players and the need bigger squads, I just hope the IRFU, WRFU, SFU and Italians factored that into their decision/negotiations.

    • Money doesn’t ruin the game, it’s where the money goes that ruins the game. Consider the French example, the only NH country where the club game has financially dominated the international game since day zero of the professional era: the result has been a progressively strengthening club game at the expense of the international side. You’d reasonably expect (given both the French advantage of sheer numbers compared to the Kiwis, and the disadvantage of French rugby not being the only game in town as in NZ) that they should be constantly vying with BNZ to be the best team in the world, not struggling to be one of the top 3 in Europe.

      This brings us to the “gradual creep” you mention; I don’t think it’ll be gradual at all: one of the main reasons the English clubs went hell for leather now (as opposed to the last time they threw their toys out of the pram, or waiting until the next European negotiation) is that English rugby is at a tipping point financially. International turnover for the RFU is about 150m sterling, whereas Premiership turnover is about 120m. Once that seesaw tips, the clubs run the show. 2015 may be England’s last chance of winning a World Cup before their international rugby team goes the way of the football one.

    • Stephen

       /  April 14, 2014

      There are many things I disagree with in that post, shoepie.

      1. You shouldn’t leave out the extra TV expenses on the average fan, the conduct of English clubs and the PRL, and the general narrative approach of the English media. If the HEC reforms were *just* a slight reduction in teams and a more meritocratic qualification process, I would be reasonably happy. The issue is that the outcome of these negotiations is only the latest step in a continuous Anglo-French push for privatisation and club supremacy which has been ongoing since professionalism, and which will damage the game at all levels, and in all developed NH countries, thus eventually damaging the game at a global level.

      2. I don’t understand the point you’re making re the Amlin. If no-one cares about Worcester going to Oyonnax, how will it magically become a better competition? As much as (to use your example) Ulster supporters are a pretty loyal bunch, I highly doubt the Amlin would animate them to the same extent as the Pro12, should the situation arise. (I’ll concede, though: we’re both forecasting way into the future here.)

      3. Re the Welsh teams in the Pro12: have they been conserving their energy for the Heineken up until now? Bar the Ospreys occasionally, the Welsh regions are poorly run entities who are not capable of much above 1 top-4 Pro12 finisher per year, with the occasional Pro12 title (invariably Ospreys). The issue with Welsh rugby isn’t a lack of interest, it is utterly shambolic governing structures and, in the last negotiations, a disgusting lack of character on the part of RRW.

      4. Glasgow-Edinburgh and Treviso-Zebre are already pretty tasty; Glasgow aside, the derby matches are pretty much all that those teams have to look forward to in your average Pro12 season. One could even argue in the opposite direction: would Glasgow intentionally field WEAKER sides in the HEC, knowing they will not progress, in order to ensure they are strong enough to qualify for next year’s HEC, where they will again pick up their cheque, go home and focus on picking up their cheque again next year.

      • abitofshoepie

         /  April 15, 2014

        On 1, you’re missing my point completely.
        2. Do you not remember the enthusiasm generated when Leinster won it last year? The last eight is usually decent, in the group stages good sides are spread too thinly.
        3. The welsh actually conserve their energy for internationals. However, if instead of being guaranteed 3 places they now have to win them via the Pro 12, I don’t see how that would not be better for competitiveness in the Pro 12? The root cause of welsh governance problems is the artificial nature of their ‘regions’ – fans haven’t yet bought into it.
        4. If all these teams have to look forward to is the derbies, then it really is a sorry state of affairs. Your point about Glasgow is bizarre.

    • Not sure I can agree with this shoepie. Stephen covers off most of the main points.

      I’d add that the Zebre-home-QF argument is another red herring. The pool invariably involved at least two other teams (often three) who were pretty decent and as a result it was no less competitive than others. As we said in the post, there’ll now be more runners-up going through, so the pool stages, if anything, will be a bit more forgiving.

      But individual arguments aside, the number of things you’re choosing to ‘leave aside’ is surely too much to compensate for a marginally more competitive Pro12, no?

  6. Lop12

     /  April 14, 2014

    Could also argue that giving provinces free access to players would be better directed away from the Xmas interpros. if you look at those games as a “pool of points”; all the points will stay in Ireland anyway. Better give access to win the points against Welsh/Scot teams to steal points from them to better give all provinces a chance of qualification.

    Just a thought!!!

  7. Bowe Gathers

     /  April 14, 2014

    Pretty bleak stuff Whiff, and it’s certainly easy to worry about the march of the money men, as is apparent outside of rugby at so many levels of society.

    The only thing that, for me, holds hope that you haven’t mentioned is the IRB. Unlike FIFA they’re a straight bunch, not corrupt and far more in control of the game than the footballers. We have fewer competing agendas, fewer political quandaries than the soccer heads. If it comes down to it I believe they’re better placed to put the oligarchs in their place. It’s that or face the international game go down the toilet…

  8. don_cherrys_conscience

     /  April 14, 2014

    Whiff, great post. To use an American sports analogy, this competition is transferring from a NFL model (league-run/union-controlled) to a MLB model (club-run/club-run).

    The whole model of baseball, with no salary cap, has become a vicious circle. To justify the sports rights fees, the broadcasting networks want the large markets (Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers) in the playoffs each season, because of the viewers they bring to the advertisers.

    How long before the English and French broadcasters demand more teams from those countries, to “ensure” that the viewers to BT, Sky and Canal turn up?

    One of the main reasons the NFL is so far ahead of other US sports leagues in TV ratings is its long-standing policy “competitors on the field, business partners off the field.” Small markets like Indianapolis, New Orleans and Baltimore have won Super Bowls in recent seasons, precisely because of this commitment to each franchise working with equal resources.

    I, too, fear for the future of European rugby.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 14, 2014

      I always find it ironic, that, in a nation known for rabidly promoting capitalism and free markets, the most successful and most watched sports league is the exact anithesis of that.

  9. Rocky

     /  April 14, 2014

    There is a huge worry about the IRB for the future. Currently, the big eight run the show and decisions can only be made if they (or most of them) are in favour.
    Apparently, the IRB is currently undergoing an audit of its governance structures and there is a huge worry that they may be forced to change their structures to something that looks a lot like FIFA – basically a one-man-one-vote structure. At a stroke, this would remove any control from the big eight and allow all decisions to be taken by a simple majority vote from all the constituent nations. That would open the door for the professional clubs if they can seize the power from the Unions.

  10. Leinsterlion

     /  April 14, 2014

    The problem is the pro 12 is a pile of shit, nigh on unwatchable, It should have been expanded to include two more Italian teams and a few National XV’s from the “B” 6N’s and have true meritocratic qualification for the HC, or even split it into two divisions, something to spice it up, more TV money etc, give the games some bit and encourage bigger squads, thus more players for the national sides, etc

  11. hulkinator

     /  April 15, 2014

    We all know why there is going to be a soccer world cup in Qatar. They happen to have some very wealthy individuals… With all the money coming into rugby now, there is a danger that wealthy individuals will ‘persuade’ the IRB to their way of thinking.

    The English were backed into a corner and the HEC was going ahead until the Welsh (rrw) jumped ship. The RRW gambled big time and failed big time. They’re passing it off now as a victory but they’ve lost a lot of money for the Celtic and Italian teams. What a bunch of morons. The Scots were also quick to break rank. So in future if I was running the IRFU I would say f’em to the Scots and RRW. The Scots are talking about a 3rd team now which the IRFU should block. The Scots are quick enough to block everything else themselves.

    The clubs have won this battle but now the war. The unions should be planning for the next round and looking to take back control. Ideally, in 8 years time, it would be great for the unions to have some other countries on board with them. Thats if they can get a few rugby teams started up in more countries. The Pro 12 unions should be doing more to expand the game with a view to this.

  12. Ultra Sur

     /  April 15, 2014

    If anything, this whole debacle has exposed how poorly thought out the IRFU strategy has been with regard to sub-international rugby. Despite being so clearly dependent on European rugby, they blithely ignored the PRO 12 as an alternative income source and simply tried to maintain the status quo of relying on its continued acceptance by other, more powerful countries.

    What we have now is a competition that still carries a stigma of being shit with the players/fans (e.g. Radge saying he didn’t care about missing kicks due to new style as it was “only the Rabo/Magners/Celtic League”), commentators and eventually openly rubbished by the Welsh club owners and fans. The RRW had a point though. The IRFU consistently pulled players on trips to Wales, making it far less of a draw for the public they were trying to sell to and can share a large portion of the blame for the reputation of the competition.

    The fact is international rugby in this country has huge exposure. Any growth will be incremental. There’s still some growing room left for the provinces re Europe but surely the real potential growth area is the PRO12. There is very little competition to weekly rugby. They need to start winning hearts and minds now and to act in concert with the other unions.

    The one advantage the PRO12 has over the Aviva and Top14 is that it is not constrained by national boundaries. That means rugby teams in the rest of Europe can potentially be added to a PRO12 structure – e.g. creation of division 2. That should be part of the PRO12 long-term management focus.

    • daveyreidy

       /  April 15, 2014

      What is the story if for instance four Irish teams finish in the top 4 and three Welsh finish 5th ,6th and 7th. How are the Italian and Scottish teams represented, and who loses out?

    • I’d agree they should look to expand the PRO12 to other countries. It’s not as easy as that. If you introduce a second division then there’ll have to be relegation and promotion. Given the health of Irish provinces relative to the other stakeholders clubs it’d be unlikely that an Irish team would be relegated.

      Also given the control IRFU has over the provinces they could force the “big three” to transfer or loan players to Connacht for a season in the interest of keeping them up if relegation became a threat.

      Will adding other countries bring in extra revenue or followers or benefit Irish rugby in any way or will it end up splitting our slice of the cake even further. If this year has prove anything is you’ve got to look after your own interests first, no fraternity between the various organisations.

      • Ultra Sur

         /  April 15, 2014

        The benefit to adding a second division from other countries is increased exposure/revenue etc by simply creating a larger league to include more population centres/countries etc. As I said, if it were pursued it would be a long term strategy and I don’t pretend that it’s realistic even in the medium term (if at all). It would also require significant IRB funding to get the second division off the ground.

        However, the IRFU (and the other PRO12 unions) need to be thinking outside the box and getting proactive as, in relative terms, we will continue to get poorer while the big two leagues get richer. The main problem is potential market for advertisers. We’re getting screwed by demographics. The total market is 15m in the Celtic countries. It’s 50m-odd in England and France and as a result they’re pulling in TV deals that we’ll never be able to negotiate.

        • Not Michael Bent

           /  April 15, 2014

          The major problem, both with relegation and with only having one Heineken Cup competing team, is that all the big names in Italian rugby are going to want to go to one team (most likely Treviso), which will be a self-fulfilling prophesy of making Zebre worse and worse, and further and further from competing.

          I mean, if I’m the third best second row in Italy, I’d rather be at the team in the Heineken Cup and top flight of “domestic” rugby, as cover for the starters (and get starts from time to time), than be the star second row of a team in the second division and who compete in the Amlin (and probably get destroyed by the 8th best team in France, because we usually play the Spanish national team etc, so we don’t experience high quality rugby ever).

          If there is a second division (the Am 12), the way I see it is that it has to exist without promotion/relegation, and run alongside the Pro 12, similar to minor league baseball to the Major Leagues.

      • Lop12

         /  April 16, 2014

        Decent starting point miight be to seek to add “franchises” (I hate that word) tagged onto Real Madrid/Barca/Bayern Munich. Leverage off their fanbase, only a v small %age of fanbase would be required to equal the welsh or scottish attendances. Already have basketball and handball teams attached I believe.

        • This already exists to an extent, as you say. Real and Bayern don’t have rugby teams (Real used to) but other multisports clubs like Barcelona, Valencia, Hamburg, St Pauli, etc do. I believe Atletico have a link-up with the rugby team of the same name too. The problem is that Spanish rugby is fiercely amateur, as most of the Latin-speaking game is, so there’s not an awful lot of support for any kind of professsional structure. Even Argentina had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the professional era and they’re light years ahead.

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