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