Italian entry to competition now unlikely

Fri, Jan 29, 2010, 00:00

RUGBY MAGNERS LEAGUE:THE PROPOSAL to have two Italian teams, comprised of home-based players, competing in an expanded, 12-team Magners League looks set to be formally shot down today.

The Celtic League board had asked for a €3 million warranty from the FIR (Italian Rugby federation) to offset the costs of having two Italian franchises in the league for a four-year trial and set a deadline of this morning. However, the FIR president Giancarlo Dondi – the driving force behind the proposal – has said he will reject this demand.

Dondi and the FIR had offered to refund the Irish, Welsh and Scottish teams for expenses incurred in travelling to matches in Italy, no profit-sharing for the Italian franchises and a projected Italian television deal of €300,000 to €400,000, but is believed to be furious at the demand for a €3 million warranty.

The proposal has been tripping over stumbling blocks virtually since Dondi, strongly supported by Italian coach Nick Mallett, first floated the idea.

Last July, the FIR board agreed that Viadana and Rome would be the two nominated Italian franchises. But Dondi supported Viadana and Treviso, rather than Rome, and forced the board to create two commissions – financial and technical – to verify the credentials of Viadana and Rome. The man chosen to chair the financial commission was Zeno Zanandrea, the FIR vice-president from Treviso.

After Dondi called another FIR board meeting in October, the financial commission declared that the Rome bid be rejected due to a supposed lack of financial strength and Treviso was chosen instead, which in turn prompted the Rome franchise to take the FIR to a court of justice.

In any event, when Dondi met with the Magners League chief executive David Jordan and the chairman John Hussey on January 8th, the FIR president cooled on the proposal in light of the league’s request for the €3 million warranty or entry fee.

The problem is that having planned to enter two franchises in the Magners League, the Italians depleted their championship for 2010-11.

The Super 10 will became a Super 12 and two major clubs (Calvisano and Unione Capitolina) had dismantled their senior sides, relegating themselves to lower leagues, because their sponsors are not interested in a semi-professional Super 12.

Without Magners, the best Italian-based Italian players will not have top-level rugby next season.

Hence, Dondi is now exploring the possibility of entering two Italian selections to play in the Heineken Cup, but that looks a long-shot at this stage as well.