Monthly Archives: August 2000

Tom and Phil’s Structure

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As Gwyn Jones has pointed out all clubs in England’s Zurich Premiership received the same amount from the RFU – £1.6 million. This allowed a competitive tournament that last week saw Sale – bottom last season – defeat Bath, the champions of the previous year. In Wales, though, the bigger clubs are given a disproportionate share of the Union’s money, increasing the gulf between the clubs in the premier league.

The Union should stop meddling in the financial affairs of the clubs. Clubs should be given the freedom to market their own players and their own team. The Union must allow the clubs to play who they want in order to generate their own revenue and sponsorship – indeed the Union should have supported the idea of four professional clubs from wales – with the top 120 players – playing in a British League when the idea was offered to them. This can still happen.

Saracens FlyerThe union must concentrate on developing the grass routes and invest heavily in this area. High level coaches and facilities for school rugby are the way to develop the game in Wales. They should also spend their resources in training clubs to develop their own professional management side – how to attract money to the club and to the game? How to market the club?

The sad thing is that the Union thinks it knows more about the players on the pitch – and the coaches who coach them – than the clubs. Player development must be left to the clubs where competition for places and tough competition will provide an the necessary impetus to player development.

Interfering in the finances of top clubs may provide short term gain like keeping our top players in Wales instead of them leaving to England where they could earn more money, but this is only a short term solution. The only way to keep players in Wales is to allow them to compete weekly with the higher profile and better marketed English clubs.

London Wasps vs Leicester Tigers
Just look at two initiatives for an example. Take Wasps and their plan to offer free admission to the recent Wasps vs Leicester game, Or how about Saracens with season ticket prices cheaper than Cardiff’s – despite higher costs in London and the higher salaries of both players and spectators! A quick scan of the internet sites of the ZP teams will show you the difference in professionalism between the two structures. Leicester are the best supported club in Britain because they work hard to develop their fan base with open days, weekly newsletters, promotions etc.etc. Our club – the biggest in Wales – offers a shadow of this approach. The club is still run for the benefit of the players and the privileged few. How long will it take for things to change? How long will it take for us to see players accessible to the fans? How long until we see Dai Young serving pints in the bar as Olivier Magne was doing at Montferrand?

Celtic League – Good or Bad Development

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At last the WRUin seem to have come up with an idea on how to inject some much needed life into a tired and predictable fixture list with real hope for change next season. Whilst we may not be getting a British League, it seems that a Celtic League is not so far away.

Contradictory stories still abound in the media but it seems that the first matches of the new league would be played on 25 August 2001. Fourteen teams – eight Welsh, two Scottish and four Irish will be spilt into two pools, with play-offs for the league title. Some reports say both home and away fixtures whilst others say not. The top two teams in each pool will go through to the semi-final. The Heineken Cup would not be affected and the existing Welsh-Scottish League would be moved to after Christmas, although it would be reduced from 12 to 10 clubs.

Try as we might, trying to fit all this into a season seems very difficult if there’s going to be 6 Celtic League games (no way to be home and away!) plus semi-final and final, same Europen Cup structure, and a further 18 games in the WSL. The Village Cup will have to go! Then there’s the question of the luck of the draw – firstly dictating which pool your team is drawn in, and then which teams you play away at – all a bit of a lottery! And finally there’s the prospect of playing one Welsh team five or six times in one season (once in the Celtic League pool, once in the CL Final, once in the European Cup and twice in the Village League and once in the Village Cup – if it servives!). And what about this Champion of Champions play off, we’re hearing about?

But there is a cost associated with these proposal and it has been estimated that an extra £100,000 will be needed to meet the travel expenses of the new Celtic league. Welsh Premier Clubs chairman Stuart Gallacher hopes this could be met by the increased television revenue and from sponsorship of the new league. Planely so far, the WRUin have failed to market the existing Wales-Scottish League to any potential sponsors – “We haven’t succeeded in getting a Welsh-Scottish League sponsor yet, but we are actively seeking one,” Geoff Evans said. Can we really expect anything different if the Irish join the League?

As expected there are already rumblings of discontent from amongst the amateur and semi-pro ranks. The Division One clubs association chairman, David Escott of Rumney, is quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some clubs in this division launch legal action over this.”

All this restructuring means that Caerphilly and Cross Keys (surely the two teams which finish bottom of the WSL) will be relegated to the first division – it seems Uncle Peter will get his wish! But you can’t help feel some sympathy with Dunvant’s Mark Perdue, their technical director of rugby, when he says, “The last time we were told this it was two weeks before the end of the season, so this is pretty good for the WRU. We use the Union as a personal motivation for the club. We’re determined to make ourselves as much of a pain to the Union as we can.”

A brief Introduction to rugby in Ireland

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Although the Irish Rugby Football Union was formed in 1874, club rugby had been played in the country for many years before that. Trinity College Dublin claims to be one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, having been formed in 1854, while North of Ireland FC soon followed in 1859.

Ireland played their first test match against England at the Oval in 1875, but it was not until 1881 that they first won a test, against Scotland at Ormeau in Belfast. During the 1880’s the four provincial branches of the IRFU first ran cup competitions and although these tournaments still take place every year their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All Ireland league. This was first held, with two divisions in 1990, and since then has developed to highly competitive four divisions. In the 10 seasons since its introduction the league has never been won by a club from outside of Munster, with Shannon laying claim to the title of greatest ever Irish club side by winning the title for four years in succession from 1994-1998.

The four provinces – one of which will form Cardiff’s opposition in the European Cup – have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920’s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to International level. Munster, Leinster and Ulster continue to be the strongest three with Connacht, in the west of the country traditionally the weakest. The top three provinces compete in the European Cup, which Ulster won in 1999, while Connacht take part in the European Shield.

As such, Irish rugby is based on a pyramid system – clubs, provinces and internationals. The IRFU decided that in the professional era they would make the 4 Provinces (Ulster, Leinster, Munster & Connacht) professional with the clubs remaining in essence amateur/semi professional. During the summer months, each Province is told the size of its squad (approx 26) and all but two must have Irish connections (the grandparents rule comes into play). Also, all the squad must play their rugby in Ireland and preferably within the province for which they have been chosen.

Therefore the current Ulster side shows two non-Irish players (Ryan Constable and Grant Henderson) with the rest having Irish backgrounds. Shane Stewart, Brad Free, Russell Nelson, Andy Ward and John Campbell are non-Ulster born (Stewart, Ward – NZ, Nelson – SA, Free – Australia and Campbell – Dublin) but qualify. All except Campbell play their club rugby in Ulster but only at the completion of the Interprovincial Championship and European Cup competitions (or where there is a break in them like after the October European Cup dates).

1-Sept Ulster Munster
1-Sept Leinster Connacht
8-Sept Munster Leinster
9-Sept Connacht Ulster
15-Sept Leinster Ulster
15-Sept Munster Connacht
22-Sept Ulster Leinster
23-Sept Connacht Munster
29-Sept Munster Ulster
30-Sept Connacht Leinster

So the clubs will have them for roughly 14 games just before Xmas and beyond. Local players earn a contract (with the Ulster Branch) through performances at club level while perceived gaps in talent are filled by overseas (Irish and non-Irish backgrounds). Most of the current squad were retained from last year with only Stewart getting selected on the basis of his Ballymena club displays. The seven new faces are Nelson, Free, Constable, Henderson, Stewart, Boyd (originally from Ulster) and Campbell.

The squad cannot be added to during the season except in the case of injuries such as now with the loss of Dion O’Cuinneagain and Allen Clarke. Ulster may have one gap left for either of these positions. The provincial squads are limited in numbers – unlike the Welsh, French and English clubs – with a set wage structure that someone like Peter Muller would not get togged out for. Even Ulster’s international players won’t earn near what he is on, hence the attraction of the mainland.

For the record, the Interprovincial Cup starts on September 1st when Ulster take on Munster. Only when these fixtures start will we get a better idea of the relative strengths of the provinces ….

Thanks to Alistair at the unofficial site of Ulster RFC for helping us put this short introduction together.

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