Toulon have resources to test the best
All of a sudden, seeing as Leicester and Wasps aren’t picking off Heineken Cups by the truckload, their system is being seen as a disadvantage. The Irish way of minding our players, of taking care of them and making sure they’re fit for the biggest games, all of a sudden that’s unfair. They want to have it both ways.
This is all about money. Everything they’re complaining about comes down to money in the end. And anything they manage to push through in these negotiations will only matter because of money. They probably have a point in objecting to the automatic entry of teams from each country and it would do the Rabo Pro12 no harm if qualification was more stringent.
But if you follow that argument through to the end, it will obviously mean fewer Scottish and Italian clubs playing in the Heineken Cup, which will mean the competitiveness of their international teams will inevitably suffer.
What the English clubs don’t seem to have grasped is the international game is where the money is. Those clubs might be suffering financially but the RFU isn’t. It has built up a very healthy balance sheet on the back of a very competitive international calendar. But that competitiveness has to grow from the ground up and the only way that can happen is if the countries with the smaller playing pools can still have proper representation in the biggest club competition.
Think of it like this. In Ireland, we pick our international team from basically four provincial teams. In Scotland, they pick from two. Same in Italy. What if a rule came in saying that the English team could only pick from their top four clubs?
That might sound completely off the wall but is it any more anti-competition than condemning the clubs in the smaller countries to a lower-level competition like the Amlin just because the English clubs (a) want more money and (b) are sick of the Paddies winning the competition year after year?
We’ve been here before.
I played in the 1998/99 season when the English clubs withdrew for a year and we definitely missed them.
You would have always looked forward to getting an English team into Thomond Park because it just got everyone up on their toes a little bit more. It brought more buzz and excitement and we were glad to see them come back the following year, even though one of them beat us in the final.
That was a different era though. There is more money involved now, more TV rights, more people through the gates, higher salaries, higher stakes.