12 Ways To Fix the Guinness PRO12

France’s professional leagues continue to attract a mind-boggling array of talent from around the world. England’s Aviva Premiership has signed a new multi-million pound broadcast deal that will take it on to a new financial plane. What of our own Guinness Pro12? This season the league has a new sponsor and for the first time a set piece final. What other steps could make it better? Here’s a few suggestions to think about:

1) Say ciao to the Italians

Best to get the toughest one out of the way first. Inviting the Italian clubs into the Celtic set up was the right thing to do. Enterprising – laudable even. At one stage, a couple of years back, it looked like Treviso might finally break through and become serious contenders. They didn’t and what’s happened since then has been thoroughly depressing. The Italian sides are a mess. The performances have been poor but the lack of unity between clubs and unions or a discernible plan to turn things round is the main concern. High profile players continue to take their talents elsewhere, there’s no recognisable growth in the fan base and there appears to be little appetite for addressing these issues among Italian rugby’s leadership. Is the Pro12 really so strong that it can afford to carry the Italian sides in perpetuity? No. Sorry – and I genuinely am sorry – but the Italians need to go.

2) London calling

Losing the Italians cuts the league from 12 to 10. All the indications from England point towards the Aviva Premiership becoming, if not a closed shop, an increasingly exclusive private members’ club. Why not invite London Scottish and London Welsh to join the Pro12? The English game has treated London Welsh shabbily, Scottish rugby is crying out for a third team to give players a platform and the development costs of including the Exiles would be a fraction of those required to start a new franchise. London as a market has huge potential for Pro12, giving the Irish, Welsh and Scottish diaspora a chance to see their teams at least once a season and making it easier for the Celtic unions to identify and develop young English-based talent. Neither side would let themselves down on the pitch and the other franchises could probably learn a thing or two about club ethos and values along the way. What’s not to like?

3) Daffodil diplomacy

It is a sad but inarguable fact that, in fairy tale of Welsh rugby, the Pro12 has been cast as the wicked stepmother. Many (most?) supporters look east to England and hanker for a return to the halcyon days of fixtures with the likes of Bath, Leicester, Northampton et al. If you were Welsh, you probably would too. Pro12 rugby is seen by many in the Principality as a second prize and a distant one at that. But this is no time for sulking. Everyone needs to work hard to build the Pro12 in Wales. The entry of London Welsh would be a start, a gesture towards the ‘traditional’ fixtures the fans crave. When the Scots and Irish teams travel to Wales they need to take their full squads, always. Some sponsor-backed measures to help supporters travel to away games to improve atmosphere at the grounds would help forge friendly rivalries. Irish and Scottish rugby needs to accept that we need the Welsh perhaps even more than they need us.

4) Smash the unions

The pervading influence of the WRU, IRFU and SRU on Pro12 matters is a comfort and a noose. The Aviva bosses may be brash but most of them are hugely effective champions for their clubs. In Scotland, in particular, the relationship between Murrayfield and Scotstoun and Murrayfield and, erm, Murrayfield, is far too close. Meanwhile, the relationship between union and districts in Wales appears downright corrosive. There’s a better balance in Ireland but some provinces – Munster I’m looking at you here – are punching nowhere near their weight commercially at present. Time to loosen the central grip and let the offspring stand on their own two feet. The people deciding operational matters should be representatives of districts, provinces and clubs, not unions. By all means set up a non-executive board of union placeholders to provide oversight but let the people at the sharp end run the business.

5) A home of our own

At the moment Pro12 rugby shares its offices in Dublin with the Six Nations and the British and Irish Lions. Staff work across all three bodies. The IRFU’s HQ is round the corner. Board members are appointed by the unions. It’s all just a bit too cosy. The English and French league models have their flaws but our league would benefit from a bit more distance from the rugby establishment. Some distance from the blazers would organically lead to more original thinking and a greater sense of independence among the Pro12 executives. Cardiff would be a good base, bearing in mind we’re trying to make the Welsh like us.

6) Let the kids play

The Pro12 chiefs need to ensure potential is  nurtured with scrupulous care if the league’s long-term future is to be secure. The most effective way of developing and blooding young talent is for youth players to be reared through the professional ranks. An under-20 Pro12 league, running parallel to the senior league, should be a stated aim. I’m not blind to the cost or logistical implications of this but the sooner we can get our best youngsters playing in a more competitive environment, the better.

7) Lose the cringe

Pro12 rugby isn’t perfect but it isn’t awful either. It’s a different brand of rugby to the English and French domestic game, with less focus on the set piece, but all the better for that. Time to stop cringing about what we’ve got and celebrate it. Glasgow’s recent draw with Leinster is a prime example of the entertainment that can be had.

8) Respect the fans

A Pro12 play-off final at a neutral venue isn’t a bad idea, per se. The way this year’s event was announced was a thundering disaster – a story leaked to the local paper in Belfast followed up by a brief announcement on the Pro12 website and little information about ticketing. The fans deserve better.

9) The justice league

An unhealthy amount of time is spent debating the merits of individual Pro12 referees. Having spoken to fans of sides in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, however, the consensus view is that Pro12 refereeing standards are poor and the current set up, where each union provides a certain number of referees, is unsatisfactory. The most effective way to improve standards would be to end the current system of each union providing a quota of referees and touch judges and creating an elite pool irrespective of national origin. The elite refs could start in the under 20 league and work their way up. Referees would be sent up to the international panel via the Pro12 rather than their individual union. And would it really be so different? Two of Scotland’s three Pro12 referees are Irish!

10) Longer season

In round 16 of this year’s Pro12, six of the seven top teams in the league played each other. They shouldn’t have. Each side was so riven by call-offs that it rendered the whole thing farcical. Leinster vs Ospreys should have been a thunderous clash in front of a big Liberty crowed. Instead it was a niggly, stop start non-event with both sides shorn of key players. Glasgow barely got a team out against Munster, who were under strength too. Ulster and Scarlets did a little better and – surprise , surprise – produced the best game. Why should fans take the competition seriously if the organisers don’t? The season should be extended a week on either side to reduce the number of games played during the six nations, in particular.

11) Straight Six

The sides which finish in positions one to six in the Pro12 should qualify for the European Rugby Champions Cup. Where they’re from is irrelevant. The new ERC Cup is tougher, meaner and leaner than before. No room for Pro12 passengers or token gestures. If your team doesn’t make it then they need to be better.

12) Anyone for Currie?

I’d love to see the Pro12 champs take on the Currie Cup winners at the start of our season/end of theirs. It’d be fun and raise the Pro12’s profile. Okay, this one’s a long shot. I’ll give you that.

Alan has played club rugby badly for more than 20 years and is currently lumbering around for Bannockburn RFC. He's been a Glasgow Warriors season ticket holder since before it was fashionable.

63 comments on “12 Ways To Fix the Guinness PRO12

  1. AikenDrum71 on

    Allan very interesting read. The most transformative thing that could be done would be the London option. It would be a one way move for the 2 exiles teams so they would need some hard and fast funding arrangements in place to make the move. I understand that L.S receive around £300 K from RFU. Any other World Rugby restrictions on this happening? It seems like a great option for scottish rugby. What is the main opposition to this happening. It seems like the most logical and cost effective option especially as the funding for the Aberdeen option is not there? Interested to hear opinions. Thanks AK71.

    • FF on

      In football it is common for teams to play in leagues in other UEFA member states (like Wrexham in the English League). Also, Londn Scottish is already a member of the SRU. So, I don’t think there is any likelihood that they would be blocked if relegation/promotion was ended in England, even if temporarily.

      However, there are two main issues –

      1. The number of games caused by adding more teams, and even if you want to kick out the Italians (which I think is appalling) they have just signed a new participation agreement which lasts for another 4-5 years I think. Once you clear that hurdle, you also need to consider whether accepting LS would act as a barrier to he future entrance of a Scottish based franchise which is far more important to the health of the Scottish game.
      2. The PR of funding a team in London at the expense of investing that money in Scotland would be an issue. If we are talking £300,000 that is one thing, but we do not know if London Scottish’s private backers have the money to fund them to be competitive in the Pro-12. In the AV their business model would rely on much higher tv money. Could the SRU afford to fill this funding gap?

      So I don’t think it is at all clear that it is best for the SRU to leverage LS into the Pro-12. What would be preferable is for us to maintain a relationship where promising Scottish players become a large part of their squad and they play in the English Premiership. If promotion is ended, LS should only really be added to the Pro-12 if their private backers will fund it and if we can get some assurance that it won’t close the door to a future Aberdeen team. This might mean we are in the tricky situation of tacitly opposing LW entering the pro-12 too – they don’t currently play in London and have no continued Weslh identity in their playing squad. Are they still members of the WRU? If not, great – they have no chance of leaving the English set up.

      • Ian Mackay on

        “In football it is common for teams to play in leagues in other UEFA member states (like Wrexham in the English League)”

        Its not common at all.

        There are strict UEFA rules on non-national teams playing in other nations’ leagues.

        One of the following HAS to apply:

        1. The non-national team is within 25 miles of the border of the other nation and it is successfully argued that through distance etc. the non national team should be placed in the non-national league.
        [Example: Berwick Rangers in the Scottish league]
        2. There is no national league set-up by the nation of the non-national team.
        [Example: Monaco in the French league]
        3. Any non-national teams playing in the other nations league have grandfather rights as a consequence of a prior determination of 1 or 2.
        [Example: Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff playing in the English leagues. They have grandfather rights as the Welsh national league set-up only began in 1992.]

        I get the feeling that Rugby Europe would be similarly opposed to an English side leaving the English professional league – as UEFA would be in football terms.

      • FF on

        Fair enough, I wasn’t aware of those rules but you’ve just demonstrated there are lots of examples, indeed it is common enough that they have regulations to govern it.

        London Scottish have always been registered members of the Scottish Rugby Union in addition to the RFU. If the RFU removed relegation and promotion do you think they would ignite a PR war by also preventing them leave for the pro-12? I think they’d have nothing to gain from that stance and a lot to lose. World Rugby won’t be interested unless there is a conflict between the SRU and RFU over the (hypothetical) issue.

  2. FF on

    Personally I think the Italian sides should only leave the pro-12 if it is their decision at their instigation. We need to stick together to develop rugby in Europe and this is more important than the bottom line. Otherwise, unless we support our partners we might find that our place in the 6N is less secure than we’d hope. Anyway, the Pro-12 isn’t poor because of Zebre and Treviso – the AV has gone from strength to strength despite the presence of teams like London Welsh, Newcastle, Worcester. The real reason the French and English leagues are commercially successful is demographics – their leagues are based in commercially valuable markets. We need to support the Italian teams and improve the Pro-12 product and then their presence will be commercially very useful.

  3. suffolkscot on

    I think letting the two Italian clubs go would be a mistake although they are the whipping boys at present they are still trying to establish themselves in support and team Identities. You could also say that most clubs in the pro 12 are trying to build sound foundations.
    I don’t think LS or LW would want to come to the pro 12 there holly Grail is the AV and the money that brings. Would there local support come out in numbers against Pro12 teams or Saracens etc.
    I think getting the Sru etc out of the Pro12 would be good and onto a team to build the league getting better revenue streams in the long run. but with the governing bodies investing lots of money in the clubs to be fair they want their say.It also stops the clash of club versus country issues at the moment.
    Making the season longer? to me its ok at presentthe clubs are having to use there squads now a lot more and playing through some of the six nations forced teams to use that squad system.

    If we were start al over again I would have had the money the sru put into the 2/3 clubs into the Scottish premiership through prize money and contracts for Scottish players. built our league with sponsors tv rights although modest would have been a better path.

  4. Bulldog on

    Interesting post, if you were to select only 3 of these proposals what would be your top 3 ?

    I think extending the season will not work. Right now Glasgow have lost so many players to injury during the 6N that they need a backup squad anyway (just to play games after the 6n) The imports really step up alongside developing players in the 6N period. So you need depth anyway and that is good for the game.

    When the league closes , Scotland take their squad on tour and when that is over the players get a break which is essential to wellbeing. Shortening the break will affect family life,I also like the idea of developing players getting a chance to step up with quality players who are not in the 6N.

  5. pragmatic optomist on

    Agree with many of your points, especially,

    1) the Irishcentric nature of governing bodies at the moment.
    Organisations moving capitals seems sensible to avoid this.

    2) French and English money brokers – Agree that they’re using their influence to feather their own nest at the expense of everyone else, but fail to see how getting rid of the Italiens helps the cause of the Pro 12 given this scenario.
    The number of Pro 12 countries involved should be broadened and increased, not reduced as you suggest. This would would give more tv access to markets in different countries, and increase the potential TV rights to the Pro 12. It could be a real international legue like the Champions league in football, rather than a ‘domestic’ competition.
    We need to be more Internationalist rather then isoloationist.

    3) Welsh – They only want acess to commercially glamourous games, hence the Anglo/Welsh tournament. This is as far as they’ll go. They’d certainly never want to be under the ‘auspices’ of the English rugby union.

    Overall. the Pro 12 need to increase their markets. Accept that simply enlarging the league would lead to too many games, but there are different methods of dealing with this, as has been done in many sports. Have 2 different conferences who play each other, then play the winners of each, have a 2 league system with promotion and relegation.All ‘doable’ with a positive approach.

    4) U20 Academy leagues- Great idea. Always thought that 4 x Scottish academy sides isn’t enough for true competition. Has anyone looked at doing this?

    On the subject of extending the season, I’m not sure it would be possible at the professional level, but think it would be a great thing for the minis. From U6 through to U12 could be summer rugby, increasing the skill levels, and reducing the winter torture for kids and parents.

    • Bulldog on

      I like the idea of extending the season or having a winter break for clubs and youth teams. It is not practical for pro teams and elite players, it would never get off the ground.

      There is pros and cons however it would be worthy of a think tank.

      The east is cold but training on a winters night in the west of scotland is completely the wrong environment to develop ball handling skills. Imagine training by the sea at Greenock Wanderers or Helensburgh. Suckers on your fingers and an up and under will not land till it reaches Kilmacolm.

      We are never going to be Fijians rolling up a palm leaf and playing rugby where we stand,however we need to recognise the limitations of our environment and what we can change. Right now we need more players.

      I see no value in a third Pro team, I keep saying it, we are diluting the issue , fix what we have before we grow.

  6. David on

    I like a lot of these suggestions, particularly the further integration of London Scottish, be it in the Pro12 or by increasing the Scottish player involvement in the English league system.

    I think, as a development tool, a good first step for U20 development might be to use 7s. At present, logistically, it is difficult to see a full U20 league getting off the ground. A fully U20 7s league however, with the games played on the same pitch prior to the full match, would be a great way of integrating the youngsters into the full squad match day experience as well as providing a little extra fun for the supporters before each match. With so many fewer additional players to bring, you could maybe even squeeze in an U18 version too. Just a thought…

    • Bulldog on

      I like your idea of getting youth to the big matches and playing a part. This merits more than just a post in here. Thsi idea also integrates parents, friends and siblings to Pro Games. So I am not against that, in fact would support it in the right circumstances.

      Where I am concerned, and it is a deep concern, is the word 7’s. I posted a fuller explanation on the 25th March in the Scotland 10-40 Ireland thread.

      I am sceptical of encouraging more 7’s. I would rather see our nation focus on a game that encourages 15 men rather than a game than gets 7 on the pitch. My view is that 8 men are not getting a game in 7’s, and for all its merits, 7’s could even be a threat to sustainability.

      Unlike most sports, rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes. A game for Piano Players and Piano Shifters (another Bill McLearn quote). Every one an athlets. This aspect is one of the qualities that differentiate Rugby from most sports.

      Basically we need more players in the game in Scotland, players become spectators etc. I have no heart for reducing the number on the pitch by over 50%. If we go back to my opener, we would get more attendance by parents, friends and siblings to watch a 15 man game than a 7.

      I hope that makes sense on where I am coming from here.

  7. Standoffalot on

    The Pro12 IMO is a good league which is marketed very poorly. The scheduling is also terrible. These are the two main issues for me. I tend to think there should be a hiatus during the 6N so that people pay to see the best players and not shadow sides. I do accept that during this period we get to see players who may not get a chance otherwise but I would rather always see the best players. Secondly it needs to be pushed more in terms of marketing. In comparison with the Aviva its a poor relation. Still with Guiness and Sky on board it is getting better but there needs to be a push on getting bums on seats. From a Scottish perspective, watching Edinburgh in an empty stadium hardly helps. As for jettisoning the Italians, that’s a non starter for me.

    • Scafell on

      Will never happen thankfully. I went to a FREE Scotland u20s game at Gala. Must of been 500-700 people there. If Borderers cant be bothered to cheer on our young players for free you reckon they’ll flock to PAY to watch a pro team? Eh..no. They can keep there parochial club rugby thanks.

      • Neil on

        The fact is that we had some great teams from the late 70’s to the mid 90’s and most of the players were selected from borders clubs. People love rugby in the borders and I’m sure that a pro team would take off. the problem last time was poor management and lack of advertising/promotion. If these things had been covered then the team would have taken off without a doubt. My own feeling is that there should be pro teams in the Borders, Aberdeen and Perth. to have only two pro teams, both of which have their fare share of foreigners, is ridiculous and it does little for our nation team. Wooden spoon in the 6 nations and I can only remeber one occassion when we finished above 5th in this tournament over the last 14 years. How much evidence do the SRU need before they will wake up and smell the coffee, or do they even care?????????

      • Andy on

        The Borderers seem to be a parochial lot and terrified of change. They still think Galashiels vs Selkirk and the likes are major and relevant rugby fixtures and never adopted the change when the Border Reiviers were formed. Would they come out in numbers if it was tried again? Crowds of maybe 3-5,000?

      • FF on

        More importantly, the Borders still has a thriving club scene and still produces excellent players who now have an academy based in their back yard. Do they need a pro-team to compete with them for fans? Is pro-rugby the be-all and end-all for the Scottish rugby scene?

        I’d suggest that ensuring Borders rugby continues to thrive does not depend on establishing a professional team there. Supporting the development of the Scottish Premiership into a more elite tournament would do far more for Borders rugby.

    • bulldog on

      The Borders – Ask the borderers why it never took off. The professional game put the cost at the gate up and the borders is a rural economy with the high costs of basics and lower wages than elsewhere. So – It is not cash rich and pro rugby means cash.

  8. Bulldog on

    Before professionalism the most players in Scotland were in what was known as the North and Midlands (NM). North of the Forth and Stirling flipped between Glasgow and the NM. Food for thought.

    That said , I would not support a 3rd team right now.

    • Neil on

      I wonder why not? This is the only way we could increase the pool of quality players and is probably the only way that our national team will progress. At the moment, other 6 nation teams have 3 teams or more so their pool of players is much greater than ours and boy does it show. Thats probably the main reason why we ended up with the wooden spoon (+ a general lack of motivation on the part of the players). The problem is that, although we have arround 4 or 5 class players, we dont have cover for them in the event of injuries, suspensions or, in the case of Murray when games are being played on a Sunday.

      I know that there is some debate on where a thrid team could be located but, I really cant see much progress being made without one.

      • FF on

        Neil – I support a third pro-team like most Scottish fans but it is important that when a third team is created it is sustainable and integrated with the club and youth scene in the area it represents. I’m not at all sure that we can afford another pro-team yet and it will be a huge challenge to develop a fan base where ever it is based. Without a thriving fan base a third pro-team will just suck funding from other areas of the Scottish game that have suffered from 15 years chronic underinvestment. So, I don’t think it is nearly as straightforward as you imagine.

        Also, at the moment I am not convinced that a third pro-team is our absolute priority. Argentina have broken into the top tier (3rd in the world cup 2007, QF in 2011, starting to get results in the RC, consistently in the top 10 in the world rankings) without any domestic pro-teams by concentrating on creating an effective high performance programme for their youth players. Argentina have a very small pool of elite players and many of them debut for the test side before they have professional contracts and subsequently move to pro-clubs across the world. This has been successful for them (although I know they have now created a domestic side to play in the Super-12 but this was a condition of them joining the RC). I think the lesson from this is that to improve our results in the 6N, the absolute priority is to ensure our young players come through an effective system that develops their skills and are exposes them to a high level of intense competitive rugby from a young age. Where they get contracts when they come out of the system is less important – it would be great if they could play in Scotland for Aberdeen or Borders, but if they are good enough and can win contracts in England or France we will still benefit.

        I apologise for the long-winded post. I’d summarise by saying our priorities should be 1. Ensure our youth system is as good as anywhere in the world 2. Invest in youth and community rugby 3. Establish a third pro-team when possible.

      • bulldog on

        Why not ? Because we are diluting the issues and in terms of cash it is a diseconomies of scale. We have two sides set up and performing , one very well and one mid table. Perfect them and I would argue it would cost much less than bringing the fixed overheads of a third team alongside the issue of where you play them and whom they represent. I honestly believe the third team is not the issue.

        Arguably in terms of Population inner london (alone) is the same population as the whole of Scotland , so London Scottish development might be an option based on an established infrastructure (lower cost)and probably as good a catchement area (for scots) as any scottish district.

      • Neil on

        Bulldog- i have written many posts on this subject so i dont want to go over old ground but I feel that some pro sides coould fund themselves without involvement from the SRU, except perhaps to help out with initial set-up costs. Sure we can develop youth players but what is the point is there are only two pro teams that they can aspire to join- both of which are being filled with second rate SH players (not great players but still probnably better than local youths).

      • Bulldog on

        Neil – I think there is fundamental question that needs to be pondered and that is why do pro rugby teams exist ?

        While they feed the national team, surely that is not their number one raison d etre? They have their own fans who don’t care if the coach picks a scotsman or a martian in the jersey, as long as they keep winning and keep them entertained. Thats what they are paying for an expect their loyalty to be reciprocated.

        I see there is a lot of local lads in the Glasgow setup , less sure about the origins of the Edinburgh squad (mind you SHC stands out to me and he is a local lad). Some of these locals are talented players and merit their selection over the imports.

        So bringing in a third team, aside from where it is located, would need to be able to provide a greater level of entertainment than the best of the clubs in the district to draw a fanbase and substantiate the gate fee. As a consequence they would need to have a similar setup to Glasgow and Edinburgh, where affortable imports, plug the gaps.

        So bringing in a third team will not change that , they need to be self standing and the borders setup failed quite spectacularly.

    • Highland Bear on

      Bulldog,
      Your pro-club fundamental point gets to the nub of the problem why a SRU led 3rd Scottish club would fail. The elephant in the room is that Scotland has(unfortunately) a soccer culture. Even before professionalisation rugby was a minority sport played in pockets across the country. Only in the Borders could one say it was the popular sport but demographics allied to parocialism means that the Borders lacks the critical mass to host a professional club. Supporters and sponsors will support a professional club with an identity of its own and my perception is that this seems to be gaining traction in Glasgow albeit from and extremely low base. Edinburgh to date has failed to create a distinct identity. Have its own ground would be a good first step. Models from other countries won’t necessarily work here. Having successful professional sides doesn’t transfer to a successful national side. Even with only two clubs the better Scottish qualified will move to other, higher paying leagues or for personal development. Thats the nature of professional sport.

  9. By the beard of Cross on

    Interesting article. Few points –

    Would London Scottish and London Welsh really be more competitive than Treviso and Zebre? I am not convinced. I agree it’s a pity the Italian teams never kicked on, but at present I’m not sure that the London Exiles would beat them by very much.

    However, I agree in the basic premise of expanding the Pro 12 market. If Londoners got the opportunity to see LW or LS playing big names on the regular (Leinster, Munster, Glasgow etc) – which of course they don’t at the moment – it could be a wise way of marketing the Pro 12 in an area with more bums on seats.

    That said, LW and LS would still be the whipping boys of the Pro 12, so maybe the marketing ploy wouldn’t work as well as I assume…

    But I do agree with marketing our league better. I was in Dublin over the weekend for the Leinster Glasgow game, and I must say it was a cracker, a real contest of two great sides, with some brilliant home fans too! Far too much of the black stuff consumed. However, I felt that the game was seemingly marketed to exclusively Glasgow and Leinster fans, and I suspect little people outwith the Scots and Irish watched it.

    Compare this to the Saracens Quins game at the weekend. 84,000 fans turned out at Wembley because they knew it was going to be a great game. Now, if the Pro 12 could market our biggest games (Leinster, Glasgow, Munster, Ulster, Ospreys etc) in the same way, I’m sure we could get more people tuning in and realising the class of the Pro 12. In fact, I believe that the Leinster Glasgow game had a record number of offloads in it? Exciting, running rugby stuff that people want to watch.

    So Pro 12, get your marketing boys on it and show how exciting our big crunch matches can be.

    On an unrelated note, now that Geoff is getting rid of his beard I fear my username is no longer appropriate!

    • Michael on

      Indeed about the marketing.

      My friend is a Leinster fan in London and I had to text him to let him know the game was on TV, he couldn’t find it as it was on BBC2 Scotland, and he could only see it online (you could watch it in HD in England on a SMART TV as I was). Had no idea it was on or that it was free to watch (legally)!

  10. pragmatic optomist on

    ‘By the beard’, I’m sure you’ll change your user name to something appropriate.
    I’m interested to hear that Leinster don’t market the matches very well. Do the crowds turn up ‘in spite of’, rather than becuase of the marketing. Seems a bit ‘word of mouth’ by the rugby faithful.
    Accept that Pro 12 is poorly marketed relative to Aviva, but it doesn’t change the demographics of London.
    There is a huge diaspora of 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation jocks (and Welsh, Irish), who are relatively untapped. They do operate as ‘open’ clubs, but if ‘glamour games’ against Glasgow Leinster Munster, Ospreys etc were available, even the Angles and the tourists would come to watch. (caveat about the marketing)
    Not too many tourists would go to watch LS matches against Doncaster or Rotherham (no disrespect meant to either of them).
    The Twickenham events are attended by lots of people unconnected to Saracens and Harlequins; in some cases not even connected to rugby. It’s just an exscuse for a day out and to visit Twickenham.
    I’d be interested to know what those in charge of LS and LW thought about this option.

  11. suufolkscot on

    strange your comments about the pro12 then I get e mail survey about the pro12 and rugby…..

  12. Interested Londoner on

    Hi all,

    I’m married to a lovely Scottish lady and have a very sound rugby fanatic father-in-law who I get along with very well. The only down side being that I now support Scotland and Edinburgh as my second teams.

    I don’t feel qualified to comment on most issues in the pro12 but I will say that I think point 2) is not likely to work well as an improvement to the league. Here are a few reasons:

    a) LW is an amateur club that pays players rather than a professional club. They seriously lack the infrastructure to be top flight. They have a great history, have had a few decent seasons recently in the Championship (but didn’t win the regular season), have excelled themselves in the promotion playoffs. But they are not really a long-term viable top flight team. Its not just the funding gap between them and the clubs that own PRL shares – Exeter overcame that issue. Even if the only/main reason for their travails was the funding gap then presumably to add value to the Pro12 that funding gap would need to be covered by the SRU. But trust me, they aren’t a viable proposition even if they wanted to swap to the Pro12. I strongly suspect that all the above goes double for London Scottish.

    b) The Rugby potential for London in general is greatly overstated. I say this as a born and bred Rugby loving Londoner. Only the SW is really prime rugby territory, and Quins have that sewn up. In the amateur era SW London sustained Quins, LW, Richmond, London Scottish, Rosslyn Park at or near the top of English club rugby. That is simply not possible now, despite the great traditions of those clubs. I don’t think a pro club could really be sustained so near to Quins in the modern era. LW felt they had to move to Oxford; which hasn’t been an overwhelming success. Outside SW London: Saracens have only now found a long term home (and average <10k per match outwith the Wembley bonanzas), LI couldn't afford to stay in London. Wasps' off-field success has increased in direct relation to how far they move away from London. If anything recent events suggest that the really untapped rugby potential is in the West midlands!

    c) I don't think tapping into a diaspora works as well as it sounds on paper. The blogger's point 2) is equivalent to the argument rugby league fans make persistently about needing a RL team in London to tap into the diaspora of Northerners and Australians (as well as the argument about untapped markets etc). Its never worked. The leaguies that have moved to London (0th generation diaspora if you will) support their teams back home primarily and its not necessarily that easy to get around London so don't even turn out that strongly when 'their' teams arrive in town. I really strongly suspect a similar thing would occur if LS or LW became pro12 teams.

    Using LW and London Scottish as a mechanism for tapping into talented young English rugby players with Scottish/Welsh/Irish parents (1st gen diaspora) might turn up a few players but its more likely to unearth 'Shane Geraghty's i.e. talented English rugby players with Irish parents. LW and LS's youth set ups are both in Quins' area anyway so they'd be fighting with one of the biggest Rugby clubs in England for the top youth talent EVEN if you somehow convince these youngsters that they would rather represent the countries of their parents.

    Sorry for the length of the reply. I not trying to 'troll' or be relentlessly negative, but London is not an easy to crack untapped market. Its incredibly difficult to break into (sports-wise).

    The analogy to rugby league is a good one I think; they've been trying to crack the London market for decades. Result: the top London RL team (Broncos) has lost £30m+ since 1996 whilst producing about 10 top flight southern rugby league players and the club themselves have no long term home and play in the RL 2nd div in front of <1000 fans. In a city of 9m-ish chock-a-block full of Northerners and Australians. Enter the London sports market if you dare…

  13. pragmatic optomist on

    Hello Londoner, some very good points in your analysis.
    With Wasps moving to Coventy, Welsh to Oxford, and London Irish already in Reading, it does suggest that they didn’t think that staying in London was a viable rugby option.
    Saracens in Hendon has to arrange buses from London Underground stations just to ensure the fans can get there.
    I’m not sure if their decisions to move were based on the difficulties of finding land/stadium development, as it would be well nigh impossible to find 6-10 acres in London, and they didn’t sem keen on ground sharing in London suburbs.
    I agree with you that the SW is the real heartland rugby territory, with most of the clubs being a drive and 4 iron away from each other, but I find it difficult to believe that their isn’t a market for more professional rugby in London, given the attendances at Twickenham.
    It may be, as you say, that the rugby union potential is vastly overrated, but I’m not sure about how exactly the rugby league analogy can be used. A much different game and style that has never really been attended by, or ‘taken to’ by those outside of Wigan Pier.

    Do you think people in London would pay to see Pro 12 matches between London Scottish and Leinster, Glasgow or Ospreys? (I’m conveniently ignoring stadium, financial or political issues for the sake of discussion)
    I agree with you that it would be difficult to compete directly with Quins in South West London, and I’m aware that the RFU have divided English areas to each of the Aviva clubs. Berkshire and Hampshire feed into London Irish for example and all the top Academy kids in the county are sent there.
    That said, London Scottish still has a successful junior section and there those with Scots qualifications or affiliations could go there just as easily in a profesional set up.

    As you’re here, I’m interested to know your thoughts on whether promotion and relegation should be stopped from the Aviva premier league?

    • Interested Londoner on

      Cheers pragmatic optomist.

      There are a few things here, so I’ll indulge myself in a list-based reply:

      a) Its not just the difficulty of finding the land (LW own/perma-lease one deer park stadium after all) but also the extreme difficulty getting stadium upgrades to pro standard in the packed density of London and with all the nimbys around. Its just really tough if you’re not a super-wealthy football club who owns a 40k+ seater originally built in the ’30s depression (or whenever). And even then stadium modernisation/size increase in London can be a saga c.f. Chelsea, Tottenham, W Ham etc. It is exponentially harder for a pro-rugby club to upgrade in London. Only Quins have really managed it by a combination of location, popularity and blind luck. All the others have left their traditional homes. Getting LS ready for Pro12 level rugby… That would be a serious challenge.

      b) Twickenham is a hub, and a great day out. Although I’m sure there are plenty on this blog who would dispute that! Saracens can pack 80k+ into Wembley for a well marketed event, and have been gently increasing the prices on their big game so that they made over £500k on the last one (according to my sources) but they still don’t sell out Allianz every match. Infrequent big rugby matches doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting week-in-week-out crowds.

      c) Rugby league is different but has a lot of the same problems (in London) that I believe Pro12 rugby would have (in London). I went to a few of the RL games at the Stoop when Broncos re-marketed themselves as Quins RL for a few seasons. The arguments presented in 2) above are basically identical to the RL diehards’ arguments about having a team in London.

      d) Personally, I would be keen to go watch the Weegies (say) down here. However, I think you’d probably be very disappointed about the turnout in this imaginary match. English club rugby fans are pretty (and IMO overly) parochial – I’m sad enough to have looked at BARB TV ratings for matches and AP matches generally out rate even ECC matches between English and other countries’ teams. Even marquee clashes like Munster-Leinster in the pro12 only drew <50k on sky sports in England which is a really poor rating indicating a lack of interest by the casual English rugby fan. To put into context thats 1/2 – 1/4 of the rating Newcastle-LW has got on BT sports. The structure of the city makes it hard to mobilise fans… back to my RL analogy: they have always wondered why in a city with hundreds of thousands of Yorkshire folk and ozzies the only pro league team gets sod all attendance.

      e) I am in favour of P&R because to me that is part of the point of sport. I don't think it necessarily makes English clubs more successful or the national side any better. Its a bit like when an Irish mate of mine told me that if England had 5/6 RFU owned provinces (e.g. London & SE, West country, South-West, Midlands, North) we'd be un-stoppable at European and international level. Firstly, I'm not sure thats true. Secondly, what would be the point? There is more to a sport than just a narrow focus on the top tier.

      • pragmatic optomist on

        I’m inclined to agree with you Londoner. I’ll reply in kind.

        a – The only option would be ground share with a football club it would seem. I’m not sure what the regultions surrouding access to top leagues are, but I remember the legal brouhaha when they tried to block LW from promotion.
        Anything else is just ‘wishful thinking’ unless there as a wealthy private sponsor with lots of cash

        b – The Twickenham experience is significant as Saracens don’t fillthe Allianz. Not sure what is going on here.

        d – BARB – I didn’t realise what this was until I googled it. A useful site for the well researched. I didn’t realise that viewing figures in England for the Pro 12 were so low.
        Speaking as someone who watches lots of big games, irrespective of where the teams are from, I guess that I must be a bit rugby obsessed, or at least less parochial.

        e) I’m please to hear that you’re for P & R. I assumed this was a case of current club owners trying to protect their investments by ‘pulling up the trapdoor’ now that they’ve moved upstairs. It does seem to have a lot of support at RFU, even if not at clubs outwith the Premiership. Just seems unfair, although many do support a regional setup.

        As for LS joining the Pro 12. It may be just a pipedream. The issue for most people on this blog, is that there is broad concensus that Scotland need 4 x pro sides for national team purposes, but can only afford two.
        The wealthy investors that appear in England, don’t seem to be ss prevalent in Scotland.
        Either that or they’re just too ‘tight’.
        We need options, investors or Euro/govt. money.

  14. Neil on

    Best way to fix it would be through enforcement of the following rule: Italy, Wales, Ireland and Scotland shoould su field a minimum of 3 club teams each. That way, the SRU would b forced to leave their seats in the Ivory Topwer and do something about the dire situation of only having 2 pro teams.

    LS in the pro 12- I’m not so sure that would be a good idea. Lets face it, the supporters of that team would have to make massive round trips for each game and I really cant see many people doing that.

    Better options are as follows: Borders Reivers, Aberdeen Oilers, Stirling Stormers, Perth Panthers. Put teams in these locations and they will be supported.

    • bulldog on

      Would they be supported in the right volume and with no detriment to the clubs?

      Undermine the clubs and the structure will get top heavy and collapse. I feel we are getting removed from the grass roots in this blog. Avoid them at your peril.

      A proteam in these towns ( I like the names BTW ) is not sustainable. The North and Midlands region has the best chance of supporting a third team ( which, just for the avoidance of doubt, I am against ) brings you back to the issue of where would you site it ? and once you have worked that out , to make it viable , support would need to travel to substantiate the attendance rates needed to support the existence, and , that brings you to the same issue presented on London Scottish.

      I honestly believe that we must improve what we have. Glasgow are getting the results they deserve, Edinburgh is improving , however I have to say , and I have lived in both , Edinburgh is a real rugby town, (Used to have in excess of thirty clubs) and has all the backup needed to succeed, yet they are mid table.

      I loved FF’s vision of how great it would be to have two pro teams in the Play offs and I think the focus of our Nation right now should be :
      1) Get Edinburgh there
      2) maintain Glasgow’s position at top of the table
      3) Do not get distracted by third teams.

      Once we have both pro teams working to their maximum , anything is possible.

      • Neil on

        The problem is that with only two pro teams we don’t have a great enough pool of players, particularly given the number of non Scots in Edinburgh and Glasgow, That is the main reason we ended up with the wooden spoon this year. In reality we probably need 3 or 4 teams in order to compete with Ireland, Wales and England, never mind the top SH teams. Sure we have one or two top class players but not nearly enough and when our top players get injured, suspended etc we are stuffed. Surely you can see that. I just cant understand why you would oppose the establishment of additional pro teams.

      • Bulldog on

        Neil, I have already answered most of this already. There is nothing new in this post to change my position. When we have both proteams working at their maximum, anything is possible. So get behind them is the best advice I can offer.

  15. Neil on

    Bulldog- if everyone just wants to support their village teams in the borders as opposed to a top pro team competing at the highest level then they need their heads read. The fact is, if a pro team was properly managed and promoted in the Borders it would take off. Just look at the situation in Wales. They have the Ospreys as well a separate Neath and Swansea teams. It hasn’t done them any harm at international level where their team consistently outperforms Scotland. Ireland have 4 teams and look how well they are doing. The fact is that history teaches us that you need at least 3 or 4 pro teams in order to have a great enough pool of players to compete for the WC and 6 nation titles. With only 2 pro sides we don’t have a hope in hell- that fact is obvious to anyone with common sense, except perhaps the SRU. Just look at Argentina- they consistently finish bottom of the 4 nations for a very good reason- they don’t have any pro teams and they are in a similar situation to Scotland. Why cant people see that or am I the only one that can see the bigger picture.

    • Rory Baldwin on

      I’m not sure Wales are the torch bearer you make them out to be. The Welsh regions are semi-autonomous and this has led to incredible disruption and political infighting over the last few years. Successes in Europe have been few and pro attendances are still very poor for an area (like the Borders) where rugby is supposedly in the blood so I’m not sure their management and promotion are any better than say Glasgow who are making a real fist of it. I feel that their success at international level has almost been despite their pro-setup rather than because of it, and is probably down to the age-grade pathways that are identifying the talent that they undoubtedly have in rich supply. The extra two teams do mean they have shirts for their young lads to fill I suppose.

    • Allan on

      Considering the Rugby Championship has only been going for a breif period and the Argentinians are competing against SA, NZ, and Australia, you cannot compare the situation with Scotland, it is apples and oranges.

      You keep saying “the fact is…” and “its a fact…” but you dont have anything to back these statements up. You keep banging on about putting a club into borders when the last time this was tried, no-one turned up, why would it be any different now? There nees to be an established link between age grade, club and then pro rugby and the sutuation in the Borders seems to sggest that the link between club and pro is insurmountable due to traditional rivalries. Surely then, growing a heirarchy elsewhere and avoiding the existing barriers would be better.

      Ulster, Munster and Leinster didnt just pop into existence. They grew from very small acorns and expanded into traditional GAA territories and grew over time, building links with schools, clubs etc. Thats what needs to happen here.

      Supporting the borders clubs and promoting their links with Glasgow and Edinburgh pro sides is preferable to parachuting a pro side in on top of them and saying “support us or else!”

    • Bulldog on

      Neil, I think the posts from Scafell, Rory and Allan have answered the issue more fully than me. Good insightfull posts. I cannot see a Borders pro team working and as you know this has already been tried, so what has changed ?

      Let me help you a bit. If you said to me the introduction of the borders light railway will bring new residents to the borders and they will have cash to support proteam that would make me think. They will not have loyalty to a club side and will get behind the proteam.

      However I cannot see that making a major difference. So it is back to the question. What has changed ?

      All of the above is without prejudice , I see no credible justification for a 3rd proteam at this time.

      I admire your passion , long may it continue, however you need to be a bit more objective and less subjective if you are serious about changing hearts and minds on this matter.

      I hope this is helpfull and taken in the right spirit.

  16. Neil on

    If more pro teams is not such a great idea then why are we so rubbish at international level. The fact is that there is a very good reason why we are outmuscled by Wales and Ireland- they have double the number of pro clubs, double the number of players to chose from etc etc. Its bleedin obvious. I can only recall one occasion in the last 14 years when we finished above 5th in the 6 nations. We now have to top class coach and it still isn’t making much difference. I just cant make a better case for having another two pro teams- where you put them would be open to debate. Unfortunately there are too many Scottish fans who are just happy to accept mediocrity. I am the exception.

    • Allan on

      Oh dear, that is an incredibly arrogant statement. To think that you are the sole voice of reason and the saviour of Scottish Rugby! I hope that was just an accidental overstatement on your part?

      We all agree that more pro sides are needed, what is open to debate is where, when and how. Dont be so quick to condemn us all as luddites and paint yourself as the bringer of light. We are simply being a bit more realistic about things as they stand.

      There is no magic wand Neil, despite what you might think!

    • Bulldog on

      Neil – From the passion in the posts within here , I would say no one is happy about the international situation. It hurts and hurts deep. However the game needs to grow orgnically from the botttom up not top down and right now , we have a great opportunity to maintain Glasgow’s top 4 place and bring Edinbugh to join them.

      When we are in that position we can reevaluate , however right now, both our proteams are beating former PRO12 winners and European Cup winners. Perhaps we are closer than you would imagine.

    • Highland Bear on

      Neil
      Why do you assume that Scotland should be able to compete every year with England, Wales, France? Look at the number of players in each country (amateur as well as professional). The fact that we have won only 3 Grands Slams, two of which attributable to the SRU introducing competitive leagues before the other countries, suggests that our current position in the 6 Nations is about right. Successful Scottish teams have been built around 2 or 3 world class players, and have dependant on how may international quality players we have been able to turn out and how good the coaching has been. The shambles against Italy with 2 absolute rookies being thrown on at the death and picking up yellow cards shows how shallow the talent pool is. Further Scottish pro-clubs won’t solve this as they would have to be filled by rookies, club players and foreigners. Can’t see Glasgow, or its supporters, being prepared to give up their Pro 12 aspirations by lending players just for the ephemeral objective of improving the national side.

      • FF on

        From the few public proncouncements on the issue from the SRU, their intention appears to be to get the academies up and running and producing 30-odd players a year to graduate to the pro-ranks. Some will end up in the club game, some in the current pro-teams and some will have to compete for contracts abroad. But after a few years we may actually have the playing resources to establish a third pro-team if finances allow. If not, then we should still have a deeper pool to choose from as we’ll have fewer NSQ players in the pro-teams we do have and more players earning their crust in other leagues. Obviously, the rate of drop out without an additional team will be higher, but those that are competitive enough to win pro-contracts wherever they can are likely to be much higher quality due to the competition.

  17. Neil on

    Sure Edinburgh and Glasgow have become decent sides but it doesn’t matter how good bad or indifferent they are- there are and always will be only two teams. What we need is to increase the pool of players and I believe that this can only happen if we have at least another two pro teams. It is fair enough to suggest we need to do more at youth level but what is the point if these youngsters don’t have a roadmap. There are only two pro sides in the country, both of which are filled with foreigners. My point is that our youngsters don’t have much to aspire to or a viable road map for ther development a rugby players.

    • Nigel Farage on

      Hear hear, bloody foreigners, coming over here and taking our jobs! How dare they. They should be thrown our of the country immediately!

      9 out of 46 at Glasgow and (ahem) 17 out of 48 at Edinburgh is too many! They should all be descended from William Wallace and bleed tartan blood or they should be sacked!

      And as for the EDP’s they should all have to be able to recite Burns poems fluently in Gaelic!

    • Scafell on

      How many more times can it be said. Everyone agrees with you that we need more teams. But when the finances allow it. The SRU is still in debt. A debt that’s being carefully managed. A third pro team being set up in haste will potentially do more harm than good and set us back years.

      • Amazeballs! on

        Don’t forget that Neil can run a pro side for the bargain price of one million pounds per annum.

        Sky or BT money for the six nations is the only short term funding solution in my eyes. Not palatable to all but unless the BBC pony up another 25 mil per annum for the tv rights (split six ways) or the pro 12 and ERC tv deals are improved, we are snookered!

      • Neil on

        How about bums on seat funding another pro 12 team. Think about it- 3000 fans paying 15GBP per ticket = 45,000GBP per week. Nat a bad income if you ask me + sponshorship + sale of merchandise etc- clubs could be self sufficient quite easily provided they are well managed, dont become gready, dont pay David Beckham salaries and place enough emphasis on marketing and promotion. Anyway, I’ve been through all of this before so I dontr want to repeat myself but I dont think the SRU would have to do much except perhaps to help out with initial set up fees etc.

      • Reality check on

        They play a max of 11 league games and three european games a season. Thats 14 home games. You dont want to go over it again because your sums dont add up Neil and you’re too stubborn to admit it. Clubs dont just consist of players. There are coaches, physios, admin staff, cooks, cleaners etc. Who pays their wages or are you advocating indentured servitude? Based on your mathematics, Would you do your job for 16,000 pa?

  18. yon mannie dp on

    I tell you the best thing they can do with the pro 12. Just get rid of the Italian and Scottish teams as they are so poor. It would be far better if it only comprised teams from Wales and Ireland. That way it would be more competitive and much more of a competition worth winning. I’m sure that the teams of Scotland and Italy could form a separate league, also comprising teams from Romania and Spain. That would really benefit the Scottish teams as they would be playing at a more appropriate level.

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