Thursday 5 December 2013

Irish rugby is in a precarious position

Understatement of the Year: The situation in Europe is worrying. Extremely worrying if you are an Irish rugby supporter. The uncertainty over the Heineken Cup and what that might entail is not ideal for the teams in the Pro 12.

In a particular bad day, the continuation of the Welsh exodus has led Rhys Priestland and Richard Hibbard to Wasps and Gloucester respectively, while the PRL have decided to reject the terms they demanded at the start of these shenanigans.

This is only bad news for Ireland. Now the English are looking for an alternate competition, and the Welsh are seeking an end to their financial difficulties whilst trying to make playing for the regions a more attractive proposition. A very sensible and realistic solution for both of them is for an expanded Premiership/Championship with the four Welsh regions.

This would be a death knell for the Pro 12. It is nearly impossible for the competition to continue with just the Irish provinces, and the Italian and Scottish teams. The English may ridicule the standard of the Pro 12 now, but the potential "Pro 8" would be a terrible competition. The standard and marketability would be reduced drastically.

Irish players could do what the Welsh are doing now. To get the most out of their careers, they want to be playing in leagues of a high standard. Much like the soccer landscape, the best Irish players would move to English teams, and the quality of Irish rugby would be neglected.

What can Ireland do to stop this and try and keep their top players in Ireland?
There isn't much that can be done, but here are two outlandish possibilities;

1. A New Irish team. With an added team in Ireland, the talent could be spread out better, so that more players are getting game time, and are up against the other quality Irish players week in week out. Players like Rhys Ruddock, Paul Marshall and even CJ Stander could finally get the starts they deserve.

2. If you can't beat them, join them. Which would be more profitable for the English Premiership, a league with the regions, or with the provinces? Although at the same time, I wish I was joking.

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