By Alan Dymock
IT MAY not have changed anyone’s mind, but two timely wins for the Italian franchises in the RaboDirect Pro12 at the weekend has certainly offered a glimpse of why rugby needs to continue developing in the country.
With Zebre claiming their first ever win in any competition against the Cardiff Blues 30-25 and Benetton Treviso humbling Munster in Italy 29-19, it was a weekend to celebrate for the two clubs.
However, while calls for accord still ring around Europe and Premiership Rugby and France’s LNR stand firm in the face of the French Rugby Federation’s claims that there can be no breakaway competition, the Celtic and Italian teams are still in the dark. In the future structures may change and league placings may decide who plays in which European competition, but the Italians must be assured of something.
Not having any outlet beyond league competition would be disastrous for the growth of the game in Italy. Arguably it would be better for one or both of the pro teams to compete in the Amlin Challenge Cup or it’s predecessor tournament, as they certainly stand more chance of winning the competition or progressing through tough rounds of knock-out rugby than the semi-professional Italian sides – Calvisano, Cavilieri, Mogliano and Viadana – but the issue is and will be until there is resolution that the English and French sides are currently dictating to the rest of the continent.
Setting a precedence of disrupting a competition or competitions and ensuring that were they to strike in the future no one else stands a chance can only be bad for the game as a whole. Of course one or both of the Italian sides could still survive, grow and profit in a second-tier in Europe and this is not anywhere near as Earth-rattling a prospect as some are claiming but if it does ever get to the stage of every faction for themselves there is very little the Italians can do to speak up for themselves. They have no leverage in terms of crowd numbers, TV viewing figures or marketing clout.
Which is the great shame behind all of this, particularly as they have so much potential that was evidenced at the weekend.