Scepticism about the success of the Pro14 has prompted renewed talk of a British and Irish League. But would it work? Read this debate from our November 2020 issue

Face-off: Should rugby have a British and Irish League?

Rugby Writer for WalesOnline

In 1998, Welsh rugby blew a golden opportunity to form an Anglo-Welsh League because it wanted more than the five places offered by the RFU.

Many a Welsh rugby fan has pondered how different things might now look had negotiations taken a different course all those years ago.

The Guinness Pro14 does not capture the imagination of the masses in Wales. Because of the geographical spread of the league, very few, if any, fans travel to away matches.

In turn, this means any atmosphere or sense of occasion is largely manufactured, with stadiums rarely anywhere near capacity. It could be that the regions have enjoyed little success, that international players are absent for so many of the league’s matches, or the convoluted conference system.

The formation of an Anglo-Welsh League, or even a British and Irish League, would be a shot in the arm for the professional game in Wales.

The prospect of rekindling the old rivalry, and being able to travel to away matches without having to fork out for an overnight stay in a hotel, would be a mouthwatering one for fans on the western banks of the River Severn.

Face-off: Should rugby have a British and Irish league?

Rebels: Swansea (above) and Cardiff played English clubs in 1998-99 in defiance of the WRU (Getty Images)

Cardiff Blues have had four sell-out matches in the past year or so – three Welsh derbies and a Champions Cup clash with Saracens. The appetite is there.

Clearly, there are no guarantees that the regions would thrive in such a league. However, it would certainly generate interest.

Creating the competition is far from an easy task and it’s not clear whether the English would even be interested.

But plenty of fans in Wales will be hoping that they are.

Freelance rugby journalist

A lot of people are getting very excited about the prospect of a British and Irish League and it may well happen in the next couple of years. But it shouldn’t.

There is talk of 24 teams in two divisions but what about everybody else? You can bet your bottom dollar that relegation from that lot will be a no-no and therefore the competition is immediately compromised.

Just look at what happened when the Premiership restarted and there was no chance of falling through the trap door, with Saracens already down thanks to the salary cap scandal.

Circumstances were slightly different because of Covid-enforced midweek fixtures, but many of the games were mismatches and frankly rubbish. No relegation means lower standards and Richard Cockerill, who has coached in France, Scotland and England, recognises this.

He said that in two of the three main European leagues there were consequences for underperforming and that relegation is the only way to sort the men from the boys.

Wasps v Leicester

Mismatch: games like Wasps v Leicester in September show the danger of playing without jeopardy (Getty)

It is easy to see why the Welsh clubs are keen on a British and Irish League. They could do with the money but they need to up their game.

Look at the Pro14 or Pro12 or whatever it is this week. Johnny Sexton only goes to Wales to play in a national shirt rather than a Leinster one. If the English clubs had the same approach with their big names then who would bother turning up?

And what would the future hold for the Heineken Champions Cup? That competition has had more than enough revamps.

Nice try but it is a no from me.

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This debate first appeared in the November 2020 issue of Rugby World.