Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Guinness Pro12 – It’s Better Than You Think

by Kevin O'Brien
The new season is only three weeks old and already there is a negative narrative surrounding the Guinness Pro12 from many sections of the media both mainstream and social.
In truth, before the season even started many of the previews from the Irish media portrayed the league in a very poor light. "The Pro12 is in last chance saloon territory". "It can’t compete with the Aviva Premiership (AP) and French Top 14 economically, has a poor TV deal, a small fan base and needs new markets to survive".
Some of the ideas floated regarding obtaining new markets were rubbished before they even had a proper airing and it seems as though there was a continuous stream of negative feeling towards the league. And that was just the Irish commentary. I haven’t mentioned what some sections of Welsh rugby fraternity were saying as I think we all have a handle on the love for the league amongst some of the fan base there!!!!
Now I’m not naive enough to think that the league isn’t facing significant challenges. But for me the whole conversation around it needs to change. It needs the national media in the four nations and fans to get behind the league and highlight the positives.
There have been some great games over the first few weekends like Munster, Glasgow, Cardiff and Leinster been cracking fare. How much coverage did they receive? Very little in my mind with the Glasgow v Leinster game no more than a footnote in the Scottish press despite the fact that the game was the third best attended sporting event in Scotland that weekend. Much of the coverage was about the ‘crisis’ in Connacht or an emerging one in Munster who had lost one game! Other commentators noted how low attendances were compared with the AP and who was and wasn’t playing for the various teams.
It was also pointed out that the Cardiff v Glasgow game had no TMO as there was no TV coverage. ‘It’s a joke of a league’ shouted sections of social media. This was a great game with a decent crowd yet this was one of the main headlines was the absence of a TMO. Anyway, you get the picture. It’s all doom and gloom. All negative. Sadly this downbeat narrative is not new, it has always been thus. As @threeredkings noted on Twitter recently, when RTE showed live games the panel went out if their way to tell us how bad the league was or how poor a particular game was. It’s no wonder some people think so little of the league.
I for one am totally fed up with this continual negative discussion around the Pro12.  So with this in mind I want to try and produce a few articles which highlight the good qualities of the league, as the faults have had enough of an airing in my mind. In this one I want to highlight probably the biggest asset the league has in its’ players. The quality of players on show amongst the 12 teams is very strong with some of the best players in the world plying their trade in the Pro12.  As seen in the chart below there are exciting and electrifying guys playing throughout all the teams in the league.
Below is a list made up of high calibre players who are experienced, top class internationals, exciting youngsters, Lions, World Player of the Year nominees and multiple European Cup winners. It highlights the significant amount of talent in the Pro12.
Pro 12 Player Quality Depth by Position
McGrath Healy R Evans Buckley
2 Best Cronin R Ford R Jones
3 W Nel Fagerson Lee Ball
4 AW Jones Henderson Dillane FVD Merwve
5 Toner Davies Gray
6   S O Brien CJ Stander P O’ Mahony Lydiate Hardie
7 Warburton Tipuric Baker Barclay T O Donnell Van Der Flier
8 Heaslip Zanni Coetzee N Williams O Donoghue
9 Webb Murray Pienaar Pyrgos Gori
10  Sexton Jackson Biggar Davies Patchell Carbery
11 Zebo Bowe Russell Trimble Sweetnam Nacewa
12 S Williams Aki McCloskey Bennett
13 J Davies R Henshaw Saili Olding Dunbar
14   L Sarto DTH V D Merve Seymour M Healy Gilroy
15 Piutau R Kearney L Williams Payne Hogg

The list is not meant to be definitive but more representative of the quality of players playing in the Pro12. I’m sure I left more than a few worthy players out and will be reminded of this later! Most if not all those named would get on any Aviva Premiership or French team. Players like Hogg, Piutau, Henderson, Seymour, Liam and Scott Williams, Bundee Aki, Webb, Henshaw, Bowe etc are all pure box office gold, marquee players who can bring great skills to any game. These are the type of players who can get you out of your seat and remind us all why we love the game of rugby. They are amongst the best and most exciting players in the world playing in great teams such as Glasgow, Leinster, Cardiff, Ospreys, Munster and Ulster in the ‘little old Pro12’. As a rugby fan I would pay money to see any of these teams given the quality of players on show.

Yes there are difficulties for the league to overcome. But despite those difficulties and the less than positive media coverage surrounding the Pro12, for me the potential is there for this league to really prosper and grow. As I pointed out previously there has been great games in the league so far this season with great try’s scored. In addition I feel that there has been an increase in attacking intent from many of the teams who are endeavouring to play a more expansive style of rugby.

So get out to a match. Bring your wife, your kids, your family and friends. Go see speedsters like Hogg, Williams, Healy and Seymour scorching to the try line or bruisers like O’Donnell, Henderson or Hardie as they tackle all in sight. Enjoy the awesome power of the likes of CJ Stander, Sean O’Brien or Nick Williams mowing down the opposition. Spread the word that the Guinness Pro12 is a quality league full of top class, exciting players. You never know you might enjoy it.

Your league needs you.

Kevin O’Brien (@marywards) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.


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