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    IRFU must now think beyond Pro12

    Writing n the Examiner earlier this week Donal Lenihan says after the experience of the HEC it's time for Ireland to put its own wellbeing ahead of the the good of the unions.

    I'm almost persuaded by his argument as the HEC negotiations made us face some very unpalatable truths about the pro game. Size matters, and we don't have that in the arsenal. Here's the article in full:

    The ineptitude of the Edinburgh challenge in front of their home support on Saturday evening highlights one of the biggest challenges facing the Irish provinces in the future.
    It would be very easy to hide behind the fact that Leinster, Munster and Ulster will all contest RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals as a benchmark for the comparative strength of our respective teams. But in the longer term, our domestic league is providing nothing more than a smokescreen for more serious issues down the road.
    The fact that Munster could afford to make 11 changes from the side that faced Toulon six days earlier and beat Edinburgh by 43 points on the road, shows just how abject the Pro12 has become.
    For further confirmation, look no further than Leinster’s 62-7 nine-try annihilation of a Treviso side fielding eight players who featured for Italy in the Six Nations. That just shouldn’t happen. The Edinburgh team beaten by Munster had seven players with South African surnames but without a McDonald, a Campbell, a McKenzie, a McGregor or a Stewart anywhere in sight. What is happening to Scottish rugby? Thank God for Glasgow Warriors.
    Leinster have secured a home semi-final for the sixth successive year and by finishing top of the pile in the regular season, will once again host the final at the RDS, should they overcome Ulster for the 11th time in 13 competitive outings in theirpotential semi-final meeting on the weekend after next. In a 12-team league, it seems crazy that only five sides had any realistic chance of making the top four with weeks to go, with three of those (Leinster,Glasgow and Munster) virtually guaranteed their place in the play-offs since January.
    The fall-off in any challenge from the beleaguered Welsh districts was copper-fastened when one of the league’s serial achievers, the Ospreys, were beaten by perennial basement operators Zebre on Thursday night.
    That defeat took a lot of the drama out of the last two rounds of regular action, with Ulster only requiring a single point to make the top four. They delivered that in another fractious outing against Leinster on Friday night. The mass exodus of stellar names from the Welsh domestic game continues unabated, with the Ospreys set to lose another three British and Irish Lions in key forwards Ryan Jones, Ian Evans and Richard Hibbard to France and England at the end of the season.
    How many more defections can they take? Cardiff will be without Leigh Halfpenny and Robin Copeland next season while Lions captain Sam Warburton has signed a central contract with the WRU but nobody knows with certainty which Welsh district he will be attached to.
    Having lost George North to Northampton after the Lions tour, Scarlets must plough on next season without his Lions colleague Jonathan Davies, who is bound for Clermont Auvergne.
    The Welsh regions always offered the stiffest challenge to the Irish in the league over its 12 seasons. That dominance could be broken for the first time with Glasgow Warriors serious contenders to become the first Scottish winners, especially as they appear certain to host one of the two semi-finals, most probably against Munster. An outright Scottish victory would prove no bad thing for the competition.
    The bottom line is that domestic leagues in England and France are not only serving the cause of their clubs better but also offer a more desirable prize at the end of the season, not to mention far more in terms of financial reward to each and every club. The domestic television deals now attaching to the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 have not only assured greater financial stability but also a degree of autonomy that strengthened the hands of the French and English at the European negotiating table.
    It also helps when a tournament has a history and tradition as deep-rooted as the French championship. It’s iconic trophy, the Bouclier de Brennus, dates back to 1892, when Racing Club de France were the inaugural winners.
    In its comparatively fledgling history, the RaboDirect Pro12 set out as the Celtic League before becoming the Magners League and is set for yet another name change from next season on the assumption that it can attract a title sponsor. Unfortunately the crowds attending the games are declining, with little or no support in evidence at any of the Welsh venues.
    That is a big worry. At least the fact it serves as qualification for the newly-constructed European Rugby Champions Cup should inject new life into the tournament but having being a regular attendee at many of the games since the outset of the Celtic League back in 2001, the fall off in attendances at all venues, including Thomond Park, is a big concern.
    The one lesson the IRFU need to take after the many twists and turns that characterised the formation of the new European club template, is that it is time to look after ourselves and our best interests. Never again should we be left occupying the high moral ground, protecting the interests of Scottish, Italian and Welsh rugby while their warring factions are negotiating behind out backs, looking after themselves.
    My fellow RTÉ panellist Conor O’Shea was taken a bit by surprise on Friday night when I suggested that the Irish provinces might be better served looking to form an alliance with the Aviva Premiership at some stage in the future. At worst, we should be contemplating a British and Irish league. If we can unite under the Lions banner, then why not an expanded domestic league?
    The Irish provinces would offer a far more competitive presence in that league than the Welsh regions whom Premiership Rugby Limited were very open to inviting on board at one stage during the European standoff.
    Only issue here is that England’s PRL would be less inclined to work with the IRFU than the Welsh Regional Rugby alliance who were driving Welsh interests in deference to the WRU.
    Ireland has plenty to offer in terms of highly competitive teams, a strong rugby history and tradition attaching to all our provinces and a vibrant support base. With so many Irish people now based in England, our teams would be very well supported at away fixtures, thus swelling the attendances at those games.
    The likelihood is that a broadcast deal covering such a strong domestic league would be worth far more to Irish rugby than the current Rabo-Direct package and the quality of opposition would be consistently higher.
    The chances of this happening any time soon are probably slim to none but with the increasing likelihood that South Africa will look to align their provincial rugby with Europe at some stage over the next decade, we in Irish rugby must be prepared to think outside the box and not be left on the outside looking in.
    That could easily have happened had the IRFU not acquiesced in accepting everything the French and English demanded in the makeup of the new European club model. The lessons of the last 12 months need to be taken on board for another day.
    © Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

    Munster – Champions of Europe 2006, 2008, 2019.

    #2
    The IRFU have two choices neither involves a deal with the the PRL . Make the Pro 12 work , the 3 interpros , Glasgow,O's & Scarlets home and away matches have to be scheduled at the right times in the season so full strength sides are available and full houses . Matches between the top sides have to have priority in scheduling . There needs to be a grand final , a venue is picked and tickets sold b4 hand just like the HC. The qualification for the ERCC should also be looked at down the line . The guaranteed country place should only apply to a top 8 finish . Clear guidelines to refs to reward positive play, release in the tackle , quick roll away , offside line policed etc . Bonus points for tries scored adopt French model 3 more than opposing team .
    The other option would be to change the season starting in Jan and join with the SA teams in a separate conference from AUS/NZ . Work with the FFR to set up 4 regional teams in France : Brittany, Basque,Doc and Var . And have a 14 team conference 6 SA, 4 IRISH & 4 FRENCH all union controlled . Move the 6N's to Apr/May so can finish 13 regular and 2 play offs b4 it . Follow 6N's with SH Int tour and then have a HC style tournament SA/IRE/FR & AUS/NZ conference qualifiers .

    Comment


      #3
      There's no money in the Rabo or whatever it will be called.

      The future is a 2 division league, made up from Premier & Rabo participants. Possible SA involvement down the line.

      6N's won't move.
      Nulla semper amicus, servivit mihi, in iniuriam mihi neminem quem non persolvi

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by rathbaner View Post
        ... be prepared to think outside the box and not be left on the outside looking in...
        Am I inside the box looking out at my thoughts?
        I'm confused - maybe I'm not the sharpest tool in the box?
        Maybe I should box clever and keep one foot in the box?
        Is this Pandora's box?

        Perhaps I would understand if I was off my box.
        "There are a lot of other key decision makers who must agree with your plan."
        Johan Erasmus

        Comment


          #5
          The biggest problem with the Rabo is that the Scots and Welsh made a bit of a balls of adapting to pro rugby and have never recovered. The Scots are sort of getting their act together but the Welsh are going down the pan altogether.

          If their two unions had shown a bit of unity and backbone when facing off against the PRL and RRW threats to our league we might have been able start putting things on a sound footing. However, given the shenanigans that went on, it increasingly looks like it's every man for himself. The way things stand the Welsh and Scots are going to continue to struggle and the league will decline as a consequence.

          IMO the IRFU should be meeting with the SRU and WRU to start planning how to fix this mess but, unless they get some genuine engagement and a realistic plan to sort out their teams' performance in the very near future, they should start looking for alternatives immediately. If that means planning a British and Irish league or whatever, so be it.

          Comment


            #6
            Unfortunately adopting a strategy of every man for himself is playing right into the hands of those who pull the strings in PRL. They adopted a strategy of divide and conquer and it has worked for them.They have destroyed the Heineken Cup and we may well be witnessing the beginning of the end of the 6 Nations as a great tournament.

            The future is none too bright at present.

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by glorob View Post
              Unfortunately adopting a strategy of every man for himself is playing right into the hands of those who pull the strings in PRL. They adopted a strategy of divide and conquer and it has worked for them.They have destroyed the Heineken Cup and we may well be witnessing the beginning of the end of the 6 Nations as a great tournament.

              The future is none too bright at present.
              which begs the question. Do we go down with the others. ..?
              Munster – Champions of Europe 2006, 2008, 2019.

              Comment


                #8
                Rowing in behind the PRL is not a solution to anything.
                The IRFU have always operated on a model of resting top players in the league and playing them in the European Cup. We now have a structure where we can win the league at a canter with rotated sides and which presents the realistic opportunity for all 4 provinces to qualify for Europe every year. It's ideal unless the IRFU are willing to ditch the player management scheme, which according to our top internationals is the primary reason they're choosing to stay in Ireland over going to France.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by Tonic wine
                  Great thread,if the welsh and scots can't get there ass in gear a merger would be in our best interests.A home unions league with 22 teams involved would be some comp.Just play everyone once.If the English clubs fall behind the french clubs they may be tempted
                  With equal meritocratic ownership? Dream on.

                  If the English fall further behind the French they'll do exactly as they do in Soccer after falling behind the Spanish. Spin, Spin and spin some more. Premier League is apparently the "most competitive", has none of that diving nonsense, has the best "drama" and sure isn't La Liga just a two team league?

                  Comment


                    #10
                    I was watching when Donal L said that. Conor O'Shea was only slightly less surprised than me. When I got over my initial shock and thought about it I could a lot of sense in what he was saying. It certainly appears that the "Celtic Front" has been smashed to pieces for any future negotiations on the future of NH rugby. We were aware of the Welsh shenanigans beforehand, what with the civil war between Union & Regions, but the Scots seem to have done untold damage by their devious dealings, such so that they won't be trusted again. If that is indeed the case then the writing is literally on the wall for the Rabo/Celtic League or call it what you like. The Scots have never featured at the business end to date , the Welsh are losing the entire corps of their frontliners, the level of competition is in freefall. I think he's right on both looking after ourselves first and foremost and on looking for a more competitive environment for the future. I also agree with Glorob, the 6N is now facing relegation to a secondary competition at the hands of the PRL & it's ilk, all due to the supine attitude and action of the IRB. It won't stop with the 6N, the IRB will become irrelevant sooner rather than later.

                    As you sow, so shall you reap.
                    Mumha Abu

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by deltared View Post
                      I was watching when Donal L said that. Conor O'Shea was only slightly less surprised than me. When I got over my initial shock and thought about it I could a lot of sense in what he was saying. It certainly appears that the "Celtic Front" has been smashed to pieces for any future negotiations on the future of NH rugby. We were aware of the Welsh shenanigans beforehand, what with the civil war between Union & Regions, but the Scots seem to have done untold damage by their devious dealings, such so that they won't be trusted again. If that is indeed the case then the writing is literally on the wall for the Rabo/Celtic League or call it what you like. The Scots have never featured at the business end to date , the Welsh are losing the entire corps of their frontliners, the level of competition is in freefall. I think he's right on both looking after ourselves first and foremost and on looking for a more competitive environment for the future. I also agree with Glorob, the 6N is now facing relegation to a secondary competition at the hands of the PRL & it's ilk, all due to the supine attitude and action of the IRB. It won't stop with the 6N, the IRB will become irrelevant sooner rather than later.

                      As you sow, so shall you reap.
                      Agree with you on those points. If we don't sort the future for ourselves we are going to be at the mercy of others when the next cutting of the cake comes up. The Scots cant be trusted now and the Welsh are at civil war (can trust themselves!). Not allies to rely on as we found out. Secure the future for Irish rugby or die a slow death. Not much choice really.
                      I find your lack of faith disturbing....

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Has the HC not taught the clear lesson that the PRL are not to be trusted . And that was in a cup competition. Do you think that they will be different in a league competition ? Their model is not sustainable , the initial sugar daddies have by and large given way to new sugar daddies and despite all the investment the majority of their clubs are losing money and will continue to do so .
                        Before we give up on the Rabo we should reform it and fully back it . There is clear scope for it to grow, exhaust all those avenues before you even look at folding it .

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Although I don't agree with everything he said, its good to see Lenihan raise the issue. Theres no point waiting until the last minute again and having everyone jump ship. Start exploring options now and have a few options to bring to the table next time.


                          Throughout history the Celts have been defeated by divide and conquer. And so it happened again. If theres any good to come out of this its that the Pro 12 unions and teams have been thought a harsh lesson and they should learn from their mistakes.


                          There are a few things I would do.


                          Expand the league. There are teams from all over Europe who would love to join. Problem is they need a helping hand. This is a long term solution but as deltared said above, as you sow, so you shall reap. Super rugby is aggressively expanding, looking throughout the world for new teams because they know it would open up new markets which they need in the long term. Geography is against them but it doesn't stop them.


                          All the Pro12 need do is look around Europe. For starters I would look to the Cornish Pirates. They've just been given a minority status from the EU and they're proud of their Celtic heritage. They could be a nice fit. Being an English team would also send out a statement and be good for the image of the league as well as get the English clubs worried. London Irish would also be a consideration.


                          I would also look to the Basque country and Brittany even Romania and (Western) Russia should be invited to apply with teams. I posted about Brussels before and German rugby could be a potential goldmine. Its not easy to set up rugby teams without money but the Pro12, IRB, FFR and RFU should be looking at it like an investment and a safety net. The more teams in the league means a greater audience and you also have more unions backing you so greater numbers when the next round of talks come about.


                          Organise the league differently. More teams will weaken the quality but they could have a cut off point mid season where the bottom and top are seperated and play each other for the rest of the season. That would allow higher quality games in the top division and it would also stop many of the one sided scorelines.


                          As far at teaming up with the PRL.... its not for me. They wouldn't want it and if it did happen it would be on their terms. Personally I'd prefer the Pro12 to evolve instead of scrapping it and joining an Anglo Irish league.


                          The Welsh are the leagues biggest problem. Not so much their team strength but the real problem is their attitude to the league. They do have diehard fans but theres so much negativity and running the league down at every opportunity that it causes damage. In reality the league has been great for Wales, Ireland and European rugby. Lehihan would also do well to think about talking the league down. There are weak teams but also Glasgow, Connacht and Zebre are moving forward.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by dropkick View Post
                            I would also look to the Basque country and Brittany even Romania and (Western) Russia should be invited to apply with teams. I posted about Brussels before and German rugby could be a potential goldmine. Its not easy to set up rugby teams without money but the Pro12, IRB, FFR and RFU should be looking at it like an investment and a safety net. The more teams in the league means a greater audience and you also have more unions backing you so greater numbers when the next round of talks come about.
                            Can't see it happening or them being competitive enough if it did. The first Basque team finished 6th (won 12, lost 10) this season in the 'División de Honor'- the Spanish league.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by dropkick View Post
                              Although I don't agree with everything he said, its good to see Lenihan raise the issue. Theres no point waiting until the last minute again and having everyone jump ship. Start exploring options now and have a few options to bring to the table next time.


                              Throughout history the Celts have been defeated by divide and conquer. And so it happened again. If theres any good to come out of this its that the Pro 12 unions and teams have been thought a harsh lesson and they should learn from their mistakes.


                              There are a few things I would do.


                              Expand the league. There are teams from all over Europe who would love to join. Problem is they need a helping hand. This is a long term solution but as deltared said above, as you sow, so you shall reap. Super rugby is aggressively expanding, looking throughout the world for new teams because they know it would open up new markets which they need in the long term. Geography is against them but it doesn't stop them.


                              All the Pro12 need do is look around Europe. For starters I would look to the Cornish Pirates. They've just been given a minority status from the EU and they're proud of their Celtic heritage. They could be a nice fit. Being an English team would also send out a statement and be good for the image of the league as well as get the English clubs worried. London Irish would also be a consideration.


                              I would also look to the Basque country and Brittany even Romania and (Western) Russia should be invited to apply with teams. I posted about Brussels before and German rugby could be a potential goldmine. Its not easy to set up rugby teams without money but the Pro12, IRB, FFR and RFU should be looking at it like an investment and a safety net. The more teams in the league means a greater audience and you also have more unions backing you so greater numbers when the next round of talks come about.


                              Organise the league differently. More teams will weaken the quality but they could have a cut off point mid season where the bottom and top are seperated and play each other for the rest of the season. That would allow higher quality games in the top division and it would also stop many of the one sided scorelines.


                              As far at teaming up with the PRL.... its not for me. They wouldn't want it and if it did happen it would be on their terms. Personally I'd prefer the Pro12 to evolve instead of scrapping it and joining an Anglo Irish league.


                              The Welsh are the leagues biggest problem. Not so much their team strength but the real problem is their attitude to the league. They do have diehard fans but theres so much negativity and running the league down at every opportunity that it causes damage. In reality the league has been great for Wales, Ireland and European rugby. Lehihan would also do well to think about talking the league down. There are weak teams but also Glasgow, Connacht and Zebre are moving forward.
                              Expanding the league would be great but you need a decent return on teams coming in and would we get that?
                              There isn't a hope of Cornish Pirates etc and trying to get sides like that would just piss off the RFU etc and we don't need to look to do that if we are to look to improving/expanding the league.
                              League has been great for us but hasn't been great for Welsh overall.

                              Comment

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