Sunday, February 09, 2014

Zebre-8 Leinster-31


HoR pro logo blueNormally what I do for these posts is watch back over the match in question and give my take on what transpired, giving a context both for the 80 minutes on the day and Leinster’s season in general.

But given Monday’s news that Treviso, and surely also Zebre too, are planning to pull out of this competition from June of this year, and not to mention the whole Welsh region kerfuffle, I have to ask…just what is the bloody point???

I realise that it’s probably political manoeuvring on their part and the likelihood is that the six main unions will come together and thrash together some kind of “deal” which will probably last for just the two years which would mean all the shenanigans in the press are likely to start up again within the next twelve months.

Sorry for sounding so cynical about it, but it is really, really frustrating.

You’re reading a rugby blog right now, which probably means you are a “hard-core fan” like me.  Clearly we both enjoy the game immensely and even with all the craziness going on around the continent of Europe these days trying to organise the sport at the highest level, we still turn up week-in, week-out to watch our heroes in action.

But the game has been pro for pushing on two decades now, and when planning for the future we have to stop viewing ourselves as a niche sport and do what we can to cast a wider net for supporters, and rather than get annoyed when people don’t know the rules, educate them.

Put aside the Heineken Cup saga for a moment and let’s consider this entity we now know as the RaboDirectPRO12.  Even the name is unwieldy.   Back when I started this site it was called the Magners League, and I jokingly referred to it as the Meaningless League.

If anything the re-branding to Pro12 has made things worse, because if the Italian teams withdraw, they will either have to find two new teams or suffer the sheer embarrassment of changing the name yet again.

And on top of all of that, there’s the small matter of a lack of sponsor for the tournament.  Rabo decided to cut short their deal and that was announced back at the start of the season…companies haven’t exactly been beating down the door to replace them either.

Even with all that uncertainty, the competition has been a success here in Ireland.  Every weekend there is a clear appetite from fans of all four provinces to see their teams in action and attendance figures have always been decent at the various grounds even when the “least attractive” sides have come to visit.

But the league cannot exist without those “least attractive” sides, and we can hardly expect them to continue to take part in a league just so our own crowds can have somewhere to go of a weekend!  We have to take into account what it is like for them back home, and to constantly see the Irish provinces bunched at the top of the Pro12 table isn’t exactly going to look good in Wales, Scotland or Italy.

Of course it’s easy for us to say “Well, that’s their look-out, isn’t it?  It’s not our fault that they can’t get bums on seats!” but that attitude won’t help anyone.   In many ways we were lucky to have four ready-made provinces for fans to get behind…elsewhere teams had to be “created” and this was never going to make for an easy sell, particularly to the hard-core fans who were used to following local clubs.

So what’s the answer?  Damned if I know.  One thing is for sure…a single 12-team league for teams from three or four separate nations is not sustainable. 

In American sports, they of course have their own issues, but in general they have a decent handle when it comes to structuring the season.  One key element of this is the organisation into conferences and divisions. 

This format, which was adopted by Super Rugby a couple of years ago, is designed almost exclusively to deal with many of the problems we now have in the Rabo.  Say, for example, the 12 teams played each other throughout the season but instead of one big table there were three divisions of four along geographical lines.  Teams would still play across the divisions but there would be more emphasis on matchups within their own.

Under this system not only could you have more derby matches and less travelling, but in the Welsh case it would surely be a lot easier for the press to cover the league over there - a four-team league table of all regions looks a whole lot better (remember : a major goal is to attract new fans, even the fair-weather ones) than a big 12-team one with Irish provinces at the top.

Now…having said that, I am well aware that were the Pro12 to adopt this system something would have to be done with the Scots & Italians - would a conference work in their case? Probably not.

But that idea isn’t the reason I have named this post “conference call”. That is but one suggestion for a format change and no doubt there are many other, far better ones out there.

When Gerry Thornley talks of an “elephant in the room” in his piece today about talks on the future of the Heineken Cup, he is referring to television rights.  The way I see it, that is but a baby elephant.

The Big Mamma, and one that is getting bigger every time such meetings take place, is the long-term future of the game on the continent, and I MEAN continent, not just the six nations. 

And until a structure is put in place that allows for expansion into those markets, and the current Prime Directive of the six unions retaining their individual sovereignties is compromised, then I believe the uncertainty will remain.

So my real call is for a truly productive conference that will sort all that out.  Instead I fear we will have another sticking-plaster placed over the problem which means we are guaranteed to simply lurch forward to the next crisis.

In the meantime, I suppose I should at least point out that as a Leinster fan I am happy we got another 5 points on the Pro12 table, and as you can see by the video, there was a well-worked try or two to enjoy, though as you can also see, some of the defending was well and truly awful.  JLP

Also last weekend

Ulster 10 - 7 Ospreys

Benetton Treviso 33 - 41 Scarlets

Munster 54 - 13 Cardiff Blues

Glasgow 8 - 6 Connacht

1 MUNSTER 13 48 11 122 31 323 18
2 LEINSTER 13 45 9 91 28 294 10
3 ULSTER 13 41 9 77 23 254 8
4 OSPREYS 13 40 8 74 28 300 12
5 GLASGOW 11 37 9 29 16 177 9
6 SCARLETS 13 28 5 -19 22 240 -3
7 NG DRAGONS 12 24 5 -1 15 209 0
8 EDINBURGH 11 22 5 -53 18 202 -9
9 CARDIFF BLUES 13 22 4 -75 15 253 -15
10 TREVISO 12 19 3 -27 18 231 -11
11 ZEBRE 13 14 2 -109 19 204 -9
12 CONNACHT 13 13 2 -109 14 171 -10
Next fixtures
Fri Feb 14
Ulster v Scarlets, 7:05pm
Leinster v NG Dragons, 7:45pm
Sat Feb 15
Connacht v Edinburgh, 5pm
Cardiff Blues v Glasgow, 6:30pm
Munster v Zebre, 6:45pm
Sun Feb 16
Ospreys v Treviso, 4pm


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019