By Alan Dymock
WITH ALL the warning shots being fired by Premiership Rugby and France’s LNR, there has been a saddening lack of eyelash fluttering in the direction of some prized assets.
The Irish provinces are still one of Europe’s biggest draws.
With calls of “bullyboy tactics” and assertions that “accord” would be sought between the ERC, their stakeholders in the Celtic nations and Italy as well as the English and French bohemoths, it is clear that the financial powerhouses hold all the cards in any European negotiations. Discussions will begin again in earnest, yet the fact remains that two of three European leagues have set their minds on change and change will happen. In today’s Telegraph Quentin Smith, chairman of PRL said: “What ERC should be doing is to concentrate on running the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups this season as successfully as they can and then a mechanism for running itself down because there will no longer be a need for it.” There is clearly no going back.
Of course at this stage such revolution is undeniable, but while no one will say it – and indeed comments from Mark McCafferty do tentatively suggest that he could take or leave the Pro12 sides – Leinster, Munster and Ulster are too big in name to consider beginning a competition without. How can anyone rightly say they are the best in Europe without them being involved?
Munster head coach Rob Penney has spoken out to say: “It would be remiss not to look back at the history and the impact Irish rugby teams have had on the Heineken Cup over the years.”
“But as long as people have the best interest of the game in the forefront of their thinking when competitions are being developed, then that’s a good starting point.”
Players are aware of the potential for missing out, too, with Brian O’Driscoll tweeting: “Catastrophe if the HCup finishes. Can understand both sides’ argument. Growing the game Vs best teams/broadcasting revenue,” while Leinster teammate Rob Kearney has said: “Although it may not be under the Heineken Cup or the ERC, we want to be playing in the big competition with the best teams under the big TV deals, filling out stadiums and so on.”
The plan will be to give them the option of doing so, but as it may have been an afterthought to speak to individual Unions beyond their own, PRL and LNR have made sure they extended the olive branch to everyone again. Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom has today said: “We would like them [Celtic countries and Italy] to join us in the European Cup mark two. We would be very, very happy for them to join us.”
At this stage the other RaboDirect Pro12 teams are lucky they are bound to the Irish.