Rob Kearney stresses importance of Heineken Cup to Irish game
New Irupa chairman believes provincial system could suffer without foreign competition
Rob Kearney. Photograph: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney was yesterday unveiled as the chairman of Irupa, (the Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association) in succession to Jonny Sexton and immediately expressed the fears amongst his fellow members as to the consequences of them not playing in a pan-European or cross-border competition, and the ensuing threat of more home-based players moving to France and England.
Certainly, any cross-border competition featuring the French and English clubs, and not the Irish provinces would, Kearney believed, constitute a huge threat to the largely home-based Irish system.
“I think players in Ireland would become much more attracted to moving abroad and they will be sought after that little bit more” according to Kearney. “I think it would be detrimental, especially to the Irish and Welsh, and probably more the Irish, because we’re a stronger provincial nation at this moment in time.”
Ideally, he hoped the Heineken Cup would be saved. “Certainly for me over the past few years, when there was the option to go away, you can’t put a price on winning trophies and being a part of a successful team in Europe, and I think if that was suddenly taken away from guys, and all of a sudden they weren’t competing on the big stage, they’d certainly look at playing abroad.”
Were the demise of the Heineken Cup, or another cross-border competition not involving the Celts or Italians, to come to pass, Kearney added that it would be detrimental to the game globally.
“I think the Six Nations will struggle as a result because if we’re not getting exposed to that higher level of rugby, our standard won’t be where it should be and those performances will show in the Six Nations, and people might start to lose a little bit more interest in that competition.
“It does have knock-on effects right across the board and I do think it will be very bad for the European game if there was a breakaway competition.”
As for his tenure as Irupa chairman, Kearney’s primary aims were twofold. “I want to enhance the relationship between the players and the IRFU. I think the relationship is not as strong as it could be and we all realise that we all want the same thing. We all want to win trophies on the field, we want to continue to grow the sport, be it at international or schoolboy level.
“The other goal is that the players become genuine stakeholders in the game, that we’re involved in the debating, our opinions are sought, when it comes to choosing national coaches and making performance-based decisions.”
Kearney also highlighted the Irupa’s role in player welfare, with the presence of a dedicated Player Services Advisor in each of the provinces. “There has been some media coverage lately about the challenges that face elite rugby players off the pitch and in their transition into life after rugby. However people should also recognise the diverse range of initiatives the Irupa staff are delivering to meet these challenges. IRUPA really is playing a crucial role in the lives of players.”
Munster coach Rob Penney has expressed his confidence that the Heineken Cup can be saved. Citing the continuing evolution of competitions in the southern hemisphere, he said: “Nothing lasts forever really and the professional game has only been around for a short period of time and there is a lot of adjustment to be made before we get longevity on terms of stability.”
“The promotion, publicity and player development that comes with a great elite competition like the European Cup, all those discussions will be talking place and they won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water, no doubt about that.”