Only the Irish can prevent an Anglo-French carve-up
On Rugby:All quiet on the ERC front, although as expected the tension amongst the stakeholders as the English clubs especially push for radical reform of the Heineken Cup is acute as meetings continue. This season’s competition could conceivably be the penultimate Heineken Cup or at any rate the penultimate Heineken Cup as we know it.
If the English and French clubs ensure the Celts and Italians are to have a smaller presence in the competition, and, accordingly, a smaller slice of the financial cake, then the Welsh, Scots and Italians picked a bad time to downplay their hand on the pitch. Not for the first time in the competition, the H Cup is being saved from a glorified Anglo-French carve-up exclusively by the Irish. It would be an exceedingly dull competition without us!
The weekend brought another round of defeats across the board for the two Italian, two Scottish and three Welsh sides, who between them managed just two losing points. Indeed, between the seven of them, they have managed a grand tally of one win and 20 losses from their 21 games to date – and that was when the Ospreys beat Treviso at home.
That the Italians are struggling is not such a surprise, although Treviso were unfortunate to have no reward from their 33-25 loss in Leicester. That the Scots are performing so poorly compounds their dismal autumn, the Pittodrie defeat to Tonga and the departure of Andy Robinson. They’ve usually lurched along in the professional era, but it’s hard to think of Scottish rugby ever being at a lower ebb.
The Welsh regions were always going to struggle given their flight of wild geese proportions to sunnier (and richer) climes in France. Likewise, after four successive Tests in November, that they would be a little bedraggled last weekend. Even so, with Cardiff and the Scarlets effectively out of contention after home defeats, only the Ospreys are remotely in contention, but they have to win their remaining games at home to Toulouse and Leicester, and away to Treviso to have any hope, and even that probably won’t be enough.
Conceivably therefore, all the Welsh, Scottish and Italian interest in the competition will be extinguished before Christmas. This cannot be good for the Heineken Cup, and as we’ve seen of late with the decline of the Welsh regions, it is also reflective of worrying declining standards for that Rabo Pro12 as well.
Nor is it very good for the Celtic/Italian bargaining power at meetings of stakeholders which are attempting to thrash out a new Accord beyond the 2013-14 season. As things stand, and has been the case for the last six years, the Welsh, Scottish and Italian provide almost a third of the direct qualifiers for the Cup and accordingly their Unions or Federations receive roughly 37 per cent of the base payments.