Magners League update – the future of European rugby

I’m sorry that the next instalment is a bit late, but the pressures of the “day job” told last week.

First of all, let me thank all of you who have responded to my first few postings. It really makes for an interesting debate and I think this section of The Rugby Blog will be far more interesting if we have discussions of that nature rather than just re-hash the last round of results.

There were no matches at the weekend due to the return of the Six Nations, and there were no real surprises the week before. Once again, Cardiff Blues seemed to lose their way, relying on an unanswered second half comeback to beat Connnacht in Galway, having been 14-0 down at half-time.

The Ospreys lost to Leinster in Swansea and wins for Munster, Ulster and Scarlets left positions largely where they were, although Leinster have now opened up a gap in second place over the Ospreys.

Let’s get back now to some of the points raised in comments from readers. Mitchy and John Flanker were the only people to comment who haven’t had direct replies and they raise many interesting points – let’s try to address them and stimulate, I hope, more responses.

Should we welcome the Italians in a gesture of fraternal bonhomie, an exercise in supporting these minnows, helping them develop as a rugby-playing nation? I have two answers: Yes – for the benefit of rugby, for its expansion: and No – from the viewpoint of the Magners League.

World and, in particular, European Rugby needs to espouse and support the Italians, the Spanish, Portugese and the almost forgotten Romanians. Few would quibble.

However, why is it the responsibility of the Magners League? Why should the French not welcome their neighbours from across the Alps? Why not the English where so many Italian star players already ply their trade?

The Magners League exists, admittedly, to provide a competitive home for those Celtic nations whose purely domestic competitions cannot support the professional game. Whilst not in the Articles of Association, it is clear that the key word here is “Celtic”. The league exists to support and enhance Irish, Scottish and Welsh “club” rugby. There is no onus on the administrators also to support Italian rugby or the game in those other European outposts mentioned.

Today, the Magners League must stand or fall as a competitive tournament for the benefits of its clubs/regions/provinces and its followers or fans. It relies on a certain integrity, granted by its Celtic nature. Willy-nilly expansion risks dilution and dilution spells disaster. The future envisaged by John Flanker seems to me to describe a second-tier European league, distinguished only by the absence of the English and French. Why?

Do we assume that they, the English and French, can, as of right, strut their own stuff? Everyone else must pull together for the greater glory of the European game but the two “superpowers” plough their own furrows – is that it?

John Flanker asks the question in his response to my last article: Is there a “long term plan for the Magners”? An important question to which, sadly, I think the answer is “No”.

I agree with his point but a more relevant question, I suggest, is “Is there a long term plan for European rugby?” Again, I am forced to conclude that there is none. John’s plan for European rugby is broadly worthy of support but requires European co-ordination. If all those whom he wants to benefit are to feature, we need to find a way where first, second and perhaps third-tier clubs across Europe have paths open for promotion and relegation to the appropriate “domestic” league, where qualification for the “European Super-Cup” – today’s Heineken Cup is on a logical basis and where ALL play their part.

London Welsh have already pondered the idea of joining the Magners League if English rugby were to abandon promotion and relegation. There are rumours of a similar “Scots in London” approach. Is it beyond the bounds of our creativity and imagination to see a two-division European League structure where clubs “go up” to a “European Premiership” but “go down” to a “domestic league” at the third level (before, of course having the opportunity to return)?

This would require English Premiership plus D1, Welsh Regions and Premiership, French 1 and 2, Irish and Scottish as well as Italian, with, perhaps Spanish and Portugese structures to “gel”. Finally the European Cup and Challenge Cup would need to be reformed. But why not … or is it a forlorn hope? Seen from the standpoint of the need to improve the competitiveness of European Rugby (viz. Italian, Spanish, Portugese and Romanian) it’s difficult to see the counter arguments to this proposal. Would it improve attendances – surely, yes? Promote skill and experience- undoubtedly.

As usual, your comments are welcome.

By Denis Brennan

6 thoughts on “Magners League update – the future of European rugby

  1. Good article.

    Are there any reasons why France wouldn’t let the Italians into their league?

    As for a europe wide league with the likes of Spain, Romania etc there’s just not the money or fans there to make it plausable.

    My personal “utopian” european set up would be as follows:-

    A two division imalgimation of the Magners and GP with two up and two down between the two divions, but no relegation out of the bottom division With 11 teams in each division and with a salary cap the same for both divisions.

    The Italians jioning the French.

    The top 16 “British Isles” teams playing the top 16 French/Italian teams in a simple knockout cup.

    I can’t see any drawbacks with this proposal, it would work just great.

  2. I apologize for my poor English language. As I found arrogant that the NZ Wales coach Warren Gatland sent on the field Welsh B team in Rome risking KO, I found arrogant putting on the same line Italian and Portuguese rugby forgetting for example that two years ago Wales lost in Rome. But that was another example of supreme arrogance by James Hook….
    It is evident that Celtic National Teams are presently dominating the European Scene because of the Welsh and Irish Superclubs Regional teams competing ONLY in the Magners and Cups. But it is also clear that those superclubs are irregular because are privatly financed, as the theirs international players are payd by the Unions. The high level of the French and English rugby is guaranteed by there great professional championships. Therefore, Italy, as full member ot the top European Rugby, has all rights to have the same opportunity to encrease its rugby standard. The best opportunuty it is in fact the Celtic League. Otherwise we have to discuss the entire regime of the Celtic League. I hope that those kind of discussions , sounding a bit racialist, are going to stop in the real interest of rugby that is something higher than those miseries. I hope that today Magners leaders decide to open this wonderfull competition also to the Italian friendly teams, not forgetting that , acccording to some historians, Italians as well are from Celtic origins as for the evidences (800-400 a.c.) found in Hallstadt (Austrian Alps). Viva Magners Celtic League.! Friendly regards

  3. Giacomo,
    Please don’t feel the need to apologise for poor English – it’s pretty good and much better than my Italian. When I wrote the piece on which you have commented, it was not my intention to (1) compare Italian rugby to Portugese or (2) suggest any exclusion of Italy from the Magners League. My purpose was only to suggest that these things be considered in a European context. Should Italian clubs (who definitely need something more competitive than Italian domestic) join the Magners League just because it’s “available” or should we not think a little wider – and see Italians, French, English, Welsh, Irish, Scots join in a single two-division league? To me this makes much more sense. By the way, the Welsh players are paid by the clubs not the Union – exactly the same arrangement as in France and England which is why Wales promises to be the next battlefield between Union and professional clubs. I think your suggested evidence that Italian are Celts, dating from 800-400 AD is conclusive – all Celts have long memories!!

  4. Hi Denis. You Raised some good issues again. at the time i am writing this Italian Rugby has been admitted to the Magners league. only two teams. i would like to ask Giacomo what he thinks about only two teams getting in the league and what will happen to the rest of the domestic league in italy. Do the FIR Have a long term plan for there rugby or are they truly celts, Just make it up as you go along.
    As to the notion of the french letting the italians in, they will only consider it if the italian teams can bring a lot of euro to the table.

  5. I think the potential is there with two Italian sides now joining the league , rumours are afoot of a huge sponsorship deal for a Rome based side with those Italians playing abroad being lured back with suitable cash. At the end of the day it’s a market as large as the whole of the UK and the league itself needs the potential cash inflow.

    Mrs Pontylad is already dreaming of away trips to Rome and Venice (Treviso) and shoe-shopping so it’s not all positive ;-).

    On the European league it’s all good stuff , but the French and English appear to be have vested interests in their current set-ups , the Premiership clubs have been turned down in their request for extra fixtures by the RFU at the moment so recessionary pressures may bring something else to the fore.
    .Certainly there has been an undercurrent in Wales at least , well more than that actually considering we peeved off our celtic cousins by joining the EDF cup and had to bribe them to get out of a fix and in the past the rebel year with Swansea and Cardiff , that the preferred option would have been an Anglo-Welsh league however that ship has sailed also.

    Moffet was always in favour of a European league with two conferences and a end of season play off along US grid-iron lines not far away from Paynies suggestion.

    If there is one major problem with the Northern Hemisphere season is it’s disjointedness , the Heineken for instance is an excellent competition but it should play to a finish before the 6 Nations rather than picking up the threads nearly 3 months later . quite often a teams pool performance has no relevance to their form in the knock-out stages because of this {ok excepting Munster} .An over -all plan would be great and would give us a chance to catch up with the Southern Hemisphere due to vested interests though I’m not holding my breath.

    Giacomo I’d stretch to Gatland being arrogant with his team selection , Hook two years ago no he was just twp (you need Welsh for that one not English ) for trusting a referee who said there was time for a line-out .

  6. As an Irishman, resident in Wales, am I allowed to translate “twp” for Giacomo? Seriously, though, the deal is (almost) done with Magners League also holding out for Euros. Time for another blog instalment – in the next few days. Many thanks to my readers and keep the comments coming – they provide oxygen to the blood!

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