Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Our way or the Hei-(neken)way

There’s already Anglo-Welsh and British & Irish Cups, why not chuck in an Anglo-French as well?

Anglo-french Cup

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Judging by the tweets from Irish soccer players, Giovanni Trappatoni didn’t speak for them when he gave interviews, something that shouldn’t really be the case for the manager of an international team in any sport.

By the same token, I’m not 100% convinced that Mark McCafferty truly speaks for the entire set of Premiership clubs when he makes statements, let alone the entire set of Top 14 sugar-daddies.

Still, his words yesterday were enough for the likes of the Telegraph’s Gavin Mairs to go fumbling for his smart-phone to be one of the first to announce to the world that the Heineken Cup as we know it is more or less dead and that an Anglo-French (or would it be cheeky to suggest it’s a Franco-English based on who is more likely to be winning it each year?) replacement would be arranged.

Despite all the Irish success in recent years at provincial level, I have been banging a drum on the blogosphere for reform of European rugby since before I started this dedicated site for the sport, so it’s not like I’m all about the status quo.

But the way McCafferty & the PRL have conducted their negotiations through the media rather than behind closed doors where they should be have made me sick to my stomach, particularly when they allow the notion to fester in the minds of particularly the English rugby public that Irish success in Europe over the past decade was somehow tainted.

Unfortunately, the bulk of the suggestions they make seem to have an element of sense about them.  I don’t believe any team should have a divine right to play Heineken Cup rugby no matter what country they hail from.  And although I can’t speak for Scottish and Italian fans, would they rather not see their teams compete at a level appropriate to their standards rather than go 0 for 6 among the big boys more often than not?

A 20-team competition with 6 each from the Pro12, Top14 and Premiership plus the holders of the previous season’s HCup and Amlin has an air of intelligence about it, even if it was presented with an air of stupidity and sour grapes.

Personally I don’t believe the Anglo-French thing will happen, but what does concern me is that these discussions won’t be taken as an opportunity to re-structure the professional game on this continent in such a way as to make sense.

But at the very least can we please stop prattling on about how unfair it is for Pro12 clubs to rest players for domestic matches?  Because that is not what this is about at all.  It’s about the usual suspects, power and money. 

Power because the six top rugby nations are unwilling to concede control over their top products to an independent governing body, which means the entity known as the ERC has become more a bodyguard for the Celtic League than a rugby version of UEFA to both run the European game fairly AND allow for the inclusion of second & third tier nations like it should be.

Money because of the obviously more favourable maths that a smaller amount of overall teams means more TV mega-bucks for the English and French clubs once their own numbers remain the same.

Speaking of money and power, by the way…has anyone asked Heineken how they feel about all of this?  Given all they have poured into this sport over the years surely they count as a key player and won’t simply fade into nothingness?  Or maybe they will, after all they’re a Dutch company and there’s plenty of other sports out there willing to take their coin.

And we must remember..it’s not as though the so-called “Celtic nations” are all singing from the same hymn-sheet either.  The way Welsh rugby is floundering at regional level you have to assume they are ripe for having their heads turned by the proposed new league.

Basically, we shouldn’t be hearing about this saga stage by stage through the press.  The professional era has been with us for close on two decades.  I only wish the powers that be could stop acting like amateurs, strap on a pair and thrash out a decent compromise for the good of everyone involved. JLP

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