English/French to Boycott the Heineken Cup?

Posted: June 14, 2012 in England, Rugby, Rugby Union
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I know, before i even write this blog that parts of it will be controversial, and people won’t agree with it, but this is MY blog to showcase MY opinions, so please respect that if you feel the need to argue or comment negatively on it, you won’t change my mind on what i believe.

So with that in mind……

The threat has been made by the Premiership clubs that they intend on withdrawing from the Heineken Cup unless changes are made to the format of the tournament.

I believe the English and French clubs feel that the qualification should be 6 from the Aviva, 6 from the Top 14 and 6 from the RABO league alongside the defending Heineken champs and the winners of the Amlin cup, making up the 20 best sides in European rugby.

I’ve seen a lot of press coverage going into the reasoning behind the call for change, this is my take on some of the main points i’ve seen.

1: The Italian clubs. Now, in fairness to the Italian sides, they are at the beginning of the steep climb to being competitive. The fact Aironi have already dropped out of the RABO says a lot about how far they have to go. So the fact that Italian sides are guaranteed HC spots at the expense of better teams, both on the pitch, and off, is surely wrong. The last thing sides want mid season is an expensive weekend in Italy to walk over an uncompetitive side. If the 6 sides from each nation rule was bought in, then the Italians would have to finish top 6 to qualify. They’d still have the chance to improve, and they’d still play in the Amlin cup, so their development wouldn’t be compromised.

2: RABO Pro12 league. The way qualification works at the moment, 10 out of the RABO league sides can qualify for the HC. This is a league where there are only really 6 or 7 sides that stand a chance of winning it. Leinster, Ulster, Munster, Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and possibly Edinburgh, the other sides are NOT Heineken standard. The fact that 8 to 10 of these sides will qualify for the HC takes away the competitiveness of the league, OK, they slog it out for the playoff berths, but one of the highlights of the Aviva premiership season was the battle for the HC spots, which involved 5 clubs fighting for the last 2 spots. The fact that the Provinces can rest players without any real consequences has helped both the Irish and Welsh national sides develop as they always have the best players fresh for big games. This also shows with the attendance of league games, and has affected the Welsh sides especially, which is now showing by the amount of players being released to the French clubs. The Top14 and the Aviva Premiership are far tougher leagues in the respect that you don’t get ‘down’ games, each game is fought for, tooth and nail, the way a league should be. There is relegation places, playoff places and European cup places up for grabs, so each game carries importance. The RABO just doesn’t get that. There is no relegation worries, no realistic Euro worries (the weaker sides will not budget for HC places, so qualification is a bonus) so some games are absolute non entities.

3: Provinces vs Clubs. Is it fair that the provincial sides should play club sides anyway? With English clubs also hamstrung by a salary cap, they simply can’t have a squad with as much talent in it as say Leinster or Ulster. Even the top English clubs are trying to build with a lot more youth, George Ford, Owen Farrell and co are coming through the ranks, whereas the Provincial sides, especially in Ireland, seem to have 3 or 4 internationals in most positions standing between a youngster and a starting spot. The French sides, with no salary cap, can sign who they like, so they are buying up a lot of the talent. The Welsh sides are slightly different as financial restraints have meant they have had to put in youngsters, and its worked tremendously for them as they can play with almost no pressure in a lot of their league games. Also, the fact that these youngsters can be called in from any of the Welsh premiership clubs to the Provinces shows the depth of the talent pools the clubs have. Far more than the Aviva or the French sides.

4: Financial. This is one that i’m not so sure actually has that much of an effect on the English and French clubs, but is the one being touted by a lot of the press. Articles saying that because the English sides went out early this season, that they lost the financial input of the cup. There are three main reasons i don’t agree with this.

1) Heineken prize money isn’t THAT great. its a prestige tournament, but the prize money is better for winning the LV=Cup (or at least it was in the 10/11 season) so the potential for increased gate receipts is the only real bonus on offer, but then take into account, Leicester, Saints, Exeter, Bath and Quins out of next seasons Aviva qualifiers will probably draw sell outs for 90% of home games anyway. 

2)Having a more accessible opponent in the pool stages would allow more revenue for the club from their club travel arrangements. For example, more people would travel from Sale to Cardiff than would travel to Rome. Also you would be more likely to have a local ‘grudge match’ which would increase revenue for the home and away games. 

3)Less travel expenditure for the clubs. for example less air fare, less hotel expenses (as most sides would stay 2 or 3 nights on a long distance away trip, whereas it’d likely only be 1 if it was British Isles opposition) Lets not forget, a side could draw Toulouse and an Italian side in the same pool, thats 2 blooming expensive away trips for fans and club!

 

5: Jealousy?  I saw Dean Ryan claim this as a reason, that the English and French clubs are jealous of Leinsters success. But even after the re-jigged qualifications, Leinster would STILL qualify, so they’d STILL be the team to beat. So again, this isn’t something i agree with.

6: It wouldn’t mean any extra English clubs would qualify anyway.It was only the top 6 from this season (Quins, Tigers, Sarries, Saints, Exeter and Sale) that are in the tournament, but there would be 7 French clubs (Clermont, Toulouse,Montpellier, Castres,Metro, Stade and Biarritz as Amlin champs) and 7 from the RABO12 (Ospreys, Munster, Glasgow,Scarlets, Ulster, Blues and Leinster as HC champs) So no Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre or Connacht. Now Edinburgh had a good cup run this season, but seriously, could ANY of those sides win the tournament?And for the record….. Zebre? Who? Did they win a place in the cup in a raffle? (3 of the teams that wouldn’t qualify under the proposed qualification criteria are in the same group in the cup draw, the 4th team, Harlequins…. again proof that its not being suggested to make it easier on the English clubs!)

If the Heineken were to be boycotted by the French and English, it wouldn’t be the greatest thing to happen to Northern Hemisphere rugby, but you can bet there’s a contingency plan in place for an Anglo-French competition, maybe involving the second tier sides as well,but obviously it wouldn’t be the same as the Heineken cup, but i honestly think there is a point to be made, so i agree with the respective parties that something needs to happen.

The English and French are trying to make the competition elitist, which i agree 100% it should be the elite clubs. If they were trying to devalue the competition, i could understand some of the criticism i have read, but this is an attempt to give the best sides a chance to prove their mettle.

I can see the reasoning behind the Italian involvement, they are trying to improve the profile of the sport, it gives another market share for TV revenue, etc, but really, Aironi are NOT better than Toulon or Biarritz, yet they were both in the Amlin last season. Same with Connacht, they are a smashing side, and a great bunch of fans, but the reaction to beating Quins should say a lot about their chances. It was greeted like they’d won the Heineken cup, and without checking my facts, i think it was their only tournament win this season. They KNOW they are huge underdogs. And even though it was a great thing for their fans, surely competing, and beating, the minnows in the Amlin would provide just as much enjoyment for the fans. As a long-suffering Gloucester fan, i can assure you that winning the LV cup in a crowd 20k is JUST as satisfying as winning the Powergen cup as part of 80k!

 

As i said at the top. This is only my opinion, so feel free to disagree, but if people are going to get abusive or argumentative i’ll just block/ignore you. All comments are pre approved before appearing anyway

 

Anyway. its 2 am and i was going to bed an hour ago, but i got bit by the urge to blog, so as i have work in the morning, i’d best skidaddle!!

 

take it easy, chickens!

RC_K

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