Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Pro 12? Pro 14? Who cares?

Jason Tovey
Jason Tovey for Edinburgh Rugby vs Newport Dragons in the Guinness Pro12 at Myreside, Edinburgh. pic © Alastair Ross | Novantae Photography

Like many, I am a participant in my rugby club’s WhatsApp group.

Unlike many, the nature of my club is that it is neither tied to a town nor educational institute so it drags in waifs and strays from all walks of life, which means that there is a pretty broad range of professional clubs supported. That means English, French, Irish, South African, Kiwi and Aussie. We even had an Italian for a while. He was a good guy.

Like some, I have a more than passing interest in the local Pro 12 side – in this case Edinburgh.

This summer the group chat has been absorbed in talk of the Lions, the respective nation’s summer tours, the death of Australian rugby and just sneaking in, the introduction of South African clubs to the Pro 12. This started off as a bit of a fun chat about Edinburgh playing in Bloemfontein and the potential for a skite in Port Elizabeth. This resembles a stunning upturn in interest for the Pro 12, because the general consensus regarding it is usually this: it doesn’t matter.

Here lies the rub. The Pro 12 is an afterthought for all but the interested parties. Nobody in England/France/SA/NZ is tuning in to watch any of the games other than perhaps the odd big derby between the Irish sides. In fact, I’d say the majority of the rugby watching public in Scotland doesn’t care in the slightest about Pro 12 rugby. I’m sure the gents running this site will back up this assertion based on relative web traffic in 6 Nations and Autumn International weeks compared to, say, Edinburgh vs Dragons in mid October (yes, this is the trend – Ed).

So why does nobody care? I’ve picked up on 3 themes that I think are key. Obviously, money overrides all of this and more cash breeds more quality. However, we’re in a bit of a chicken and egg situation here given that the quality has to improve in order to get more money….

Anyway. Time to stick the boot in.

1. The Italians.

Let’s start off in the meanest way possible shall we? The Italian teams have added almost nothing other than numbers to the Pro 12. There comes a point when you have to ask: is their continued involvement benefitting anybody? It isn’t helping their international side as all the good players go to France or England and the ones left behind are trapped in an amateur set up wondering if their wages will be paid. Nobody cares about these teams, nobody wants them and even worse, they fatally weaken the league due to…

2. Weakened teams.

Ah yes, the Zebre by-week. While this is a bit of a joke, the reality is that none of the genuinely good teams looks at a trip to Italy as anything other than a break from the often howling weather found in most of the rugby outposts in this league. It’s not just the Italians either. As an Edinburgh supporter, I’m often left wondering who the hell is playing across the back line for Leinster, Munster, Ulster and the Scarlets. If we look at average finishing positions since the league expanded to 12, we can see that there’s a pretty rotten core 4 that inhabit the bottom of this pool.

Team Average Finish Best Finish
Edinburgh 9 8th
Dragons 9.4 7th
Treviso 10.1 7th
Airone/Zebre 11.8 11th

None of these 4 teams deserve much of anything other than derision for their commitment to being below average. Worth mentioning that if you take away their freak year finishing 2nd in the league, Connacht would be around there too with an average of 8.33. Can anybody explain where the excitement comes from when a full 1/3 of the teams in the league are pre-ordained also-rans before the starting pistol is fired? No wonder nobody wants to watch.

What’s that? A lack of interesting games? Ah yes…

3. No meaningful rivalry.

Even 20 years in, I’m prepared to say that pro-rugby is still an infant. Particularly in Scotland and Wales, some of the manufactured franchises have struggled to get people buying into them. Fair play to Glasgow for managing, after 15 years of nomadic barrelling about in the darkness, to find a home and build a fan base. Incidentally, well done to Glasgow and Munster for also managing to get a match which actually has a bit of needle in it now which is great for the league. All it took was legally tackling the precious Conor Murray…

The truth is though that despite the best efforts, early to mid-season matches outside of derby games are frequently boring affairs. There isn’t an intensity of rivalry nor a sense of belonging that brings urgency to matches in the way that the established teams in England and France feel.

Some of this can be attributed to there being no reason for a person in Neath to have an opinion, positive or negative, about Ulster. This breeds apathy. As a fan in Scotland, you aren’t going to go into work and encounter a chippy Treviso fan. You’re not going to find a man that is dyed-in-the-wool Dragons. Your team plays, some points are exchanged and the whole circus moves on another week, possibly against one of the also ran’s. Speaking of which, anybody remember the utter nonsense of Edinburgh at Treviso on rivalry day? Ah the animosity between Edinburgh Woollen Mill and the United Colours of Bennetton…

Many will think these are harsh arguments, and they’d be right. Then again, it is possible to be harsh but fair. I feel like the expansion to Africa with a change to a conference system might work out in bringing in more revenue, interest, quality and rivalry.

Interested in taking thoughts on this below. I’m genuinely invested in the Pro 12 and hope it gets better. I’d like to start feeling like I watch it for enjoyment, rather than out of a misplaced loyalty to Edinburgh.

54 Responses

  1. Whilst I agree with the overall sentiment of the article, I think you are overly harsh in some respects.

    1. I have no issue with your comments on the Italians. Whilst I am not as overtly gunning for their demise as many, I do feel that they have offered very little to the competition since their arrival. Why this is, well there are many reasons I expect. A lack of support from the federation? Possibly. A lack of buy-in from the Italian public? Probably. A general decline in the Italian economy? Maybe. What should we do about it? Well that’s even more difficult to answer. I definitely feel the current structure isn’t working for the Italians, but that’s not down to there being no talented players; you only have to look at the impact of Favaro and Sarto at Glasgow to see that there is some quality in Italian club rugby.

    My own though is that a reduction to one team with a more concentrated talent pool would be a good start; the federation should try to build from there as nothing brings interest and spectators more than a successful team. I think a single Italian team properly supported by the federation could be a playoff level side. I also think the investment the Italians have been making in their youth structures (and I am told they HAVE been investing) are starting to bear fruit. Their U20 side in the recent U20 World Cup was fabulous and our U20s, easily the best we have ever had at this level, were fortunate to beat them.

    2. Also rans. I think you are correct about it being the same old teams at the bottom bringing ‘banker’ points to the better teams. What I don’t agree on is that this is a Pro12 exclusive problem. Look at the English Premirship. What have London Welsh (ZERO wins in 2014/15 and only one point), Sale, Newcastle, Worcester, London Irish etc. contributed in recent seasons? Sure, some of them used to be successful, but, hell, Edinburgh finished second on the old Celtic league in 2008, much more recently than any of those clubs have been successful. The simple fact of the matter is that for any league to function, there will be teams that win and teams that lose. I don’t feel that the Pro12 ‘losers’ are any worse than in any other league (Edinburgh were Heineken Cup semi-finalists and challenge cup finalists in some of their worst ever seasons for goodness sake!).

    Where the Pro12 does have an issue is with the lack of consequence for finishing low in the table. There have been instances where, to my eye, teams have thrown in the towel well before the end of the season. A Pro12-B might be a be a potential solution. Invite the American, Spanish, German, Russian, Georgian, Romainian, Second Scottish etc. teams that have all been proposed over the past few years to compete in that league with a playoff for the winner against the bottom of the Pro 12. Seek support for travel costs etc. from World Rugby in much the same way as they are provided for the Sevens circuit. It would be a genuine way to expand interest in pro rugby to growing markets and surely a worthwhile investment for both sides.

    3. No meaningful rivalry. Well, you’ve kind of hit the nail on the head with your Munster Glasgow comments. It takes time and ‘incidents’ to build up a rivalry. There needs also to be something genuinely at stake between the teams before this will grow. It is no coincidence that Glasgow have developed a rivalry with a team outside of Edinburgh for the first time in their history at the same time that they have started being successful. Relegation scraps, continued use of the playoff system; big matches where little indescretions will lead to niggle and rivalry. Wait and it will come. To use a football example, Chelsea and Manchester City are now one of the great rivalries in English football – nobody outside of those two team’s fans (and probably few within those fan bases) would have given much of a damn about this fixture even ten years ago.

    So, in summary, many of the problems of the Pro12 are greatly exagerated. You mention that none of your mates talk about the Pro12, but none of my mates talk about the English Premiership or the Top14 (beyone Champions Cup) – we’re just not interested. I feel those in charge are correct to keep pushing for innovation and change in the league to generate sufficient money to compete with the monied leagues, but I feel that the competition is already a good one. We all now need to work hard to convince our friends, relatives, colleagues etc. that they should buy into it and not the hype about the English or Frnech alternatives.

    p.s. Apologies for the ridiculously long post!

    1. Cheers for the comment David. I appreciate the effort to respond.

      I agree that I’m maybe being a little harsh in some of the arguments and I agree that a lot of this will be ironed out by the passing of time.

      Really briefly, because I don’t want this to become two people talking rather than a group conversing:

      1. Agree. They could maybe slim to one team which would concentrate resources and then get their players playing regularly like an attempt at an Italian Juguares. The problem though for the rest of us is it still won’t immediately bring in audiences and money. We’ve not got a responsibility to develop Italian club rugby.

      2. This was more a point about teams being able to play weakened teams. Nobody wants to see that. It isn’t just bad teams, its threadbare squads being decimated by national squads and teams still needing to play them. You don’t get that luxury in other leagues. In many cases, the backups are international quality.

      Edinburgh in particular is the real sickener because Scotland need 2 strong teams but also, an Edinburgh vs Cardiff or Dublin (i.e. 6N capital vs 6N capital) clash should be box office and have huge travelling supports.

      3. Again, I agree that time and familiarity breed hatred. Rivalries will form across the borders over time. I look forward to it happening because there should be rivalries between the clubs. As the names and structures bed in more, that’ll come. I think the league needs to try to expedite this ASAP however because it’s rivalry in sport that brings interest and interest brings money.

      I suppose the whole point of this article was a reaction to the fact that, despite people insisting the Pro 12 is fine, it really, really isn’t. There is no money and our clubs are having to run flat out to even keep big English and French clubs in sight.

      Change has to be made for the success of (pro) domestic and ultimately international rugby in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Short of an international wage cap (yes please), I think that these criticisms are ones with validity when thrown at us by other countries.

      Unfortunately, it all comes down to money.

  2. Spot on David. Your comprehensive (not ridiculously long) post has saved me the trouble of typing.
    I agree that only having a single Italian team would benefit both Italian rugby and the Pro12. Although it will hurt, it will be much more competitive in the same way as the Jaguares or Sunwolves in SR.
    As for relegation, I think setting up a Pro-12 B would be complicated and expensive. Either one would put off the Unions. However, a play-off between the bottom side and the Continental Shield (which is used for qualification to the Challenge Cup) for entry to the Pro12 might be the answer. Enisei-STM anyone? They beat both Worcester and Dragons last year.

    1. Oh yes, I agree, a Pro12-B would be both complicated and (extremely) expensive – that’s why it would require WR funding (and to qualify for that, it would have to show a genuine attempt to grow the game). The reason I plumped for that kind of structure is my own conclusion that otherwise no team from the Pro12 could survive relegation. What would happen if Edinburgh, for example, were relegated? Without a second league they would probably just cease to exist. Who would they play? Who would play for them? What would they play for? Relegation just wouldn’t work without a second level Pro12 league to drop into.

      1. There is already a second tier – the Continental Shield.
        This currently involves teams from Italy (4), Russia (2) and one each from Belgium, Germany, Romania and Spain. I don’t know why Georgia and Portugal aren’t represented but they could be.
        If Edinburgh were relegated, they would have had to have had the worst season ever, losing to both Italian sides and the Dragons and Connacht and everyone else. Then they’d have to lose a two-leg play-off with, say Enisei-STM. If that did happen, they wouldn’t deserve to be in the Pro12/14!!!
        And I support Edinburgh!

      2. As far as I am aware Merlot (and I may be wrong), the Continental Shield is in no way connected to the Pro12. It is a standalone contest between the teams you have mentioned. What I have suggested is bringing an additional 10 – 14 teams into a new and expanded Pro12 competition. It would therefore share branding, sponsorship and other resources for all the teams in the enlarged competition. This would also enable the competition to offer resources such as parachute payments for relegated teams should these be required.

        I don’t think I understand the mechanism you are suggesting whereby they are relegated from the Pro12 structure into a different regional contest administered by a different organisation. Equally, I don’t understand how promotion would work, although I do understand similar issues have been overcome in football (i.e. Championship to EPL is between two different organisations). The difference there is they both fall under the umbrella body of the Football Association I suppose?

        My example of Edinburgh (whom I also support) being relegated was not to say that they might be, but rather to highlight how much of an impact it would have if there was no structure below for them to be relegated into.

  3. I just thought of a brilliant way to bring the fans back to edinburgh games .

    Free drinks and strippers.

    1. Free buses to the Burke and Hare after the game? Does that come as part of your season ticket?

      1. I couldn’t tell you Bulldog. I’m usually away to my Bible study class after a game…..

  4. We need some pre-game trash talking also similar to mcgregor -mayweather , build the rivalry will get more people interested and they can still see the values of respect once the game is over.

    i suggest somthing like mentions of taking out the 9s standing leg will help build this and picking out players like rhyss webb and dan bigger to talk crap from each team.

  5. Also im tired of coaches being modest in media when its leinster vs zebre or glasgow vs dragons and saying they are up against a decent team , i want to hear dave rennie say we are going destroy dragons by 60 points and send them back to wales cryin.

  6. Now totally off subject – IMO the biggest issue for Edinburgh is half back, the article yesterday stated Glenn Bryce can play 10…………….can he? He can certainly run but has he any of the other skills required??

    I’m not all sure I wouldn’t have jettisoned Fowles & Kennedy & brought in George Horne.


    1. Horne will overtake Pyrgos this season so no way Glasgow would move him over. They just signed a Scottish scrum half who was in the world rugby dream team for last years World Cup. He’ll usurp Kennedy this season.

      1. I expect Horne to get plenty game time this year. He’s impressed at all levels I’ve seen him. LS, Sevens and Glasgow. Fairly sure GT will be looking to see more dynamic 9s developed to fit his vision.

  7. Who cares about the Pro12/14/15/Someothernumber? We all need to. There is no alternative.

    We could have our own Scottish Premiership top 6 or so like the Romanians and the Georgians. It was good to see the cream of the Romanian SuperLiga in the tempestuous cauldron that is myreside. The disparity was clear. Players go from the Pro12 up into the Top14 or the Aviva and down a rung to the SuperLiga but the wage drop isn’t that massive, see you in the challenge cup Will Helu. We would continue to do better because the schools, youth and academy system in Romania is shot to pieces. I can see no reason why a Scottish Premiership would be any more interesting to sponsors than the current dire situation in Scottish football.

    What about the Japanese I hear nobody cry. Well no we can’t have a league like the Japanese because it’s funded by big companies and I haven’t seen a queue of them looking to fund a third pro team or even take up the SRU offer of Edinburgh or Glasgow.

    Alternative 2 drop the Italians, well great, now Edinburgh have a realistic chance of actually coming last. As posters above have mentioned, the bottom couple of teams in the Aviva get spanked. Even with fairer and more transparent finances in the TOP14 end up with a couple of teams on 4-8 wins, 2-6 is the norm for the Italians.

    Then there’s the absolute worst of all worlds. Join the AVIVA, aint gonna happen. The spivs in charge of teams in England are not interested in fair competition or widening the game or any of the “rugby values” stuff that spews forth from D4 or Twickenham. May I present in evidence:
    Not the Heineken/The Poopy Cup (TM somebody else sorry) – for all the talk about meritocracy the end result has been a greater amount of money going to teams in England and France than to Scotland, Wales or Ireland.
    Aaaah but meritocracy, weeeellll they are only keen on that happening to other people. When it comes to meritocracy that might involve one of them losing money then its all about the “quality of the product”. No definitely can’t have automatic promotion or relegation from the championship or fair funding, in fact let’s just close off the Aviva for a while.

    As for the bants, I work in an office of boring football folks. Mostly gooners, the odd spurs fan and Phil who’s actually from Norfolk but is of a certain age and therefore supports Man U. There are about a dozen rugby folk and we chat about our teams. For European weekends we troll each other about how crap the AVIVA is or what a waste of time the Pro12 is and I awkwardly end up on the same side as the Dragons fan.

    What has the Pro12 ever done for us? It’s far from perfect, I’d much rather have expanded the Pro12 towards Europe and the States but it’s got our teams playing in a good league that’s able to just about keep up with the money boys down south if we’re smart about it.

    1. In European competitions Glasgow have shown consistently, and Edinburgh intermittently, that they can match up to Aviva Prem and Top 14 sides. Three of the four Welsh Pro 12 sides and all of the Irish sides, including a recently resurgent Connacht, compare favourably with their English and French counterparts.
      So, apart from the weakness of the Italian teams (I do hope they sharpen up, for the sake of Italian Test rugby’s interests especially in the 6N), what is there about the current Pro 12 that is allegedly so concerning? It’s a strong league and its top half teams are about the same standard as their English and French equivalents.
      I think Ireland, Wales and Scotland are lucky to have a competition like this, otherwise all three of us could be in the international rankings wilderness.

      1. I’ve said it before, the P12 is a crap competition in spite of having elite sides who are regularly in later stages of Europe. It’s not a light on the players or most of the clubs it’s the competition itself. Games are so flat, miserable Friday night matches with no crowd. This may just be anecdotal but it feels to me when I watch that much more than T14 or AVIVA that the star players just don’t seem to play as much. you watch the knock outs and the quality is excellent but I think the point is if you pick a random game from the fixture list during the season in each league and the P12 is likely to produce the worst product, all factors considered, rugby on show, atmosphere. Then there’s the drop off during the international windows. Yes this happens in the other leagues but the drop off is huge in P12 because each side suffers to a greater extent than most English and French clubs due to the number of them. Saracens probably most affected losing 5 or 6 but Glasgow, Leinster etc. Will lose double figures.

    2. The only thing the Pro12 has in its favour over the AVIVA as far as rugby product goes is a lack of relegation. Relegation stifles a good rugby product and it’s not necessary when there are only two sides outside of the competition who can actually get promoted. Whether P12 fans agree or not the reason it’s in trouble is because of a lack of money which stems from a lack of interest. Younneed to look at the product objectively and identify what would make it a better rugby product. Not what would make it bigger, what would make it more headline worthy. High level competition with good compelling event rugby is what’s needed. Ireland have cracked it. Every rugby fan in England has an Irish team they at least keep an eye on. They don’t have a Welsh or Scottish team. Glasgow have started winning people over but that’ll stop as soon as the free flowing rugby stops. So in short stop whining about other competitions and look at your own. I think being on sky is going to hold it back, BT have consistently beaten Sky on their shared coverage this season and now that all European and Aviva rugby are on bt, sky are dead and buried for weekly rugby. Just P12 and championship during NH season. If P12 were on BT , they know how to frame and present rugby. Italians need to join French D2 and leave a P10. It’d be great if we managed an extra region but don’t see where it’s going to come from, I think doing something wacky with London Scottish is more viable than this South African nonsense.

      1. Who was whining about other competitions beyond the Pro 12? My point was the Pro 12 as it currently stands is apart from the lower end teams, which sadly for me have included Edinburgh for a good few years now, pretty much level in playing standards with English and French leagues. And who says the Pro 12 is in trouble? If it were in trouble, why would two Saffer teams want to join it?
        I don’t give a t*ss about whether any fans of England rugby clubs have a soft spot for Irish, Welsh or Scottish clubs, and even less of a t*ss for which of the two major tv franchises show the games, as long as one of them shows the games.
        Not sure the accession of Rennie will stop free flowing rugby at Glasgow either. Edinburgh under their new coach may well have to build from the front five back, which could be boring short term but could also help to produce better results for the club and a stronger foundation for the Test side.
        And, we need a multi-millionaire benefactor, backed by the full support next time round from the Borders clubs and fans, to have any chance of forming a viable third pro team in Scotland. It’s a pipe-dream, unless I win the Euro Millions lottery!

  8. I wasn’t aiming my point at anything you said, chill on the defensiveness. If you care about the P12 then you should care about English and other fans having an eye on the P12 because of the 63 million people in the UK, 53 million are in England. I’d suggest tapping into the rugby audience there is possibly a better business strategy than buying lottery tickets. The wider the audience, the more money to each union, the higher the chance of SRU being able to invest in a third side. Equally surely you should support the TV franchise which has the largest rugby audience and is able to promote the P12 most effectively? I agree on Cockerill, I’m an Edinburgh fan but there is a cancer in that club that is still there. He will be hamstrung by the backroom staff. He’s coming in with a hand tied behind his back. The SA teams are new sides who have just been kicked out of super rugby with nowhere to go. Going to the P12 is an act of desperation not a sign of life for the P12.

    1. that combined with the horrible state of the rand compared to the pound. Plus, who else would have them?

  9. So where are all the comments accusing Cammie of trolling? Whenever I suggest these points as reasons why the P12 is a poor competition I get slated. The 2016 final audience on sky peaked st 43k. 43k! More than that were in the ground. I know there are other broadcasters, the Irish broadcaster more than quadrupled that figure but it emphasises the articles point and mine, the largest potential UK audience, England don’t care a jot. Who cares? Average Aviva attendances are 15k/game. Pro 12 it’s ~8k plus had nearly 200 more tries in the same number of matches. It’s not marketed, not sold, has as Cammy states got 25% of sides as foregone conclusions. Its really the Irish sides keeping it going. They have history and fan base, 3 of them anyway. Some of this stuff takes time but rivalries are organic, like the growing Glasgow Munster rivalry.

    1. To put this in some context, the Aviva Gradn Final in 2015 had an audience of 297,000 viewers in a nation of 55m. The peak audience for 6 nations was 11m.

      Actually, for the 2016 final between Connacht and Leinster an audience in Ireland of 120,000 (in a nation of almost 5m) is pretty amazing and a comboned audience aross Ireland, Scotland and Wales of 160,000 is pretty respectable. The issue is building interest so fans follow the final even if teams from their nation aren’t in it. Let’s face it, if the final is on S4C and features a Welsh team the audience is going to be higher – I’d bet this year’s final performed well. But yes, pro12 does amazingly well in Ireland, growing from a low base in Scotland and is struggling in Wales. In Italy it is more or less irrelevant.

  10. Well whatever happens, at least scotland is on an upwards curb with better players coming through. Both are pro teams from now on are going to be very competitive. Also, that extra money for both teams will be invaluable. It may well mean next season Russell re-signs for Glasgow and Edinburgh can go out and get a top quality stand off and inside centre to complete their back line. Once that happens their backline will be getting closer to matching Glasgow.

    1. Edinburgh won’t get a ten before Glasgow, Russell will leave I just hope it’s not for france

      1. Who would blame him joining Montpellier after this season, playing outside Aaron Cruden or Piennar getting double the wages. I was talking to 4 Montpellier under 21s two weeks ago and they are pretty sure he has already agreed to join his old International boss, Vern Cotter. What a prospect for him!!!

  11. Super Rugby is an incomprehensible league – particularly this season. I probably watch more Super Rugby than Aviva Prem, but I have given up on it this year. Crowd sizes seem to be significantly down on previous seasons in the games I have watched so I don’t think I am alone in this.

    If the Cheetahs and Kings do join the Pro 14, then I would be against splitting into conferences. I would prefer to go back to a traditional league format, home and away games and the team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion. An expanded league that would be one week shorter than the current league/knock out final. I would also be keen to see a second tier and relegation, and with qualification to the Champions Cup dependant on league position there would be very few meaningless games. If this is the case, and if this gives a potential route into Champions Cup rugby for the Cheetahs or the Kings then interest in the league from South Africa could become very large compared to current viewing figures.

    1. If ECC qualification is allowed I think you’ll see other SA franchises make moves northward. Agree with everything you say on super rugby

      1. I can’t see everyone agreeing to ECC qualification. At least not this season. You’d have to get the French and English on board for that, and I think it’s going to be difficult enough agreeing the Pro12 format, structure and fixture list, without involving the european competitions.
        As for the English not caring about the Pro12, I think that is gradually changing. OK they hate the Welsh so wouldn’t watch any of their games, and nobody wants to watch the Italians get hammered. But the Irish sides (Munster & Leinster especially) and Glasgow are creating interest and a lot of my mates here (I live in the South East) will happily join me to watch a P12 game over certain AP games. For instance last year we watched Glasgow-Leinster rather than Wasps-Leicester. Imagine that!!

  12. Its clear that this was written by an Edinburgh fan – Because there are some things highlighted which are probably unique to them and are a consequence of consistently poor performance for 5 years now. I think there are problems but generally I think there is hope and scope for improvements

    Firstly, the league as a whole generally suffered for a couple of years because of the malaise of Leinster and Munster, whilst this was Glasgow, Connacht’s and Scarlets gain – there can be no doubt that a successful Leinster and Munster is good for the leagues brand, it is also been good for the long-term that at least 6 teams (maybe 8 with the saffas) will enter this year thinking they can win the thing. This with the provinces being strong is good for the league.

    Also the style of rugby is generally very good (at the top end admittedly) this has led to many matches being attractive with good quality rugby being played. As such crowds are generally quite decent when these teams are involved and playing each other.

    In terms of player quality, I think the league holds its own very well – it might not have the Southern Hemisphere superstars like the Top 14 or to a point the Aviva, but you only have to look at the recent lions squad to see the quality and depth of quality that is playing here. The other benefit and this might prove to be a leveler sooner than we think is that the TV companies (Canal+ and BT) are essentially propping up the 2 leagues – they are loss making leagues and quite frankly if teams are over committing based on this, then quite frankly its unsustainable. To any objective observer, the Pro 12 is under-valued and the other 2 are vastly over valued. The issue with the Pro 12 under-valued is what is driving the North American experiment and the Saffa teams, and the lack of funding is incredibly worrying, but at least our clubs are reasonably sustainable whilst still maintaining competitiveness in Europe (3 QF’s, 2 Semi’s this year).

    In terms of where the league is falling down is around our TV deal – we really shouldn’t have BBC regional deals – it does absolutely nothing for broadcaster meritocracy and reporting (anyone watching scrumv in Wales, would realise that they show the welsh teams, no-one else and almost a la North Korea, don’t really talk about how they are fairing in the league). A nationwide BBC 2 broadcast on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon – 1 game and a highlights package is what is needed coupled with Sky getting the prime game (probably involving an Irish team) once a week as well.

    With 5.5 million Scots, 6.5 million Irish, 3 million welsh (and about 300,000 saffas in the UK + however many in South Africa are going to start tuning in from now on) the collective bargaining power is quite decent – coupled with the celtic migration worldwide we need to see the potential here for a collective broadcast arrangement – just now its pitiful and fragmented.

    Furthermore its time for us to ditch the Italians, for their benefit as well as ours – we literally are acting as benefactor to Italian rugby despite us being the poorest league – we are in net deficit with them here – they should really have 1 team going in the Top 14 and 1 in Pro D2 in France – they literally fly over France and England to come here – how is that sustainable, fair or efficient???

    1. I agree with much of what you are saying Martin, but the Italians are not going to be admitted to either the Aviva or the Top 14 because there is nothing in such a move to benefit the owners of those clubs. They are not interested in anything other than themselves, and supplying their national sides with qualified players. They would take Italian players to help cover national call ups -and those Italians would then be flogged to help minimise risk to their more valuable assets. For anyone with the wider growth of rugby in mind this would not be a plus.

      Either Italian sides stay in the Pro12, with the caveat that they must see significant improvement over say a 5 year period, or they leave and set up their own national league based around semi pro teams. Difficult call to make.

  13. Thanks Cammy for a good article – definitely got the brain ticking over going through the various arguments as to the merits of the Pro12.

    I think I agree completely that the Italian experiment is not working as it currently stands. However, as David mentioned above, their “academy” system seems to be bearing fruit, similar to Scotlands, and with Conor O’Shea in charge at the top I would suggest it is worth another 2 to 3 years to allow him to effect sustainable change. This would also be a reasonable length of time for any SA teams to bed in.

    I’m with David on the matter of habitual basement dwellers. For Edinburgh, Dragons and the Italians in the Pro12, read Gloucester, Worcester, London Irish and Newcastle in the Aviva over the last 6 years. I’d also point out that the Pro12 has had 5 different winners in the last 6 years, as has the Aviva, but the last three titles have been won by teams who didn’t feature at the top end regularly in Glasgow, Connacht, and Scarlets (their previous title being more than 10 years ago, so not a sign of consistent success). The Aviva has been won twice by Sarries and once by Exeter. Exeter finished 5th bottom in 2014. The point I’m making is that it is possible to drag yourself up the table to win titles, and the Pro12 is not unique in having a regular end of season appearance.

    (This isn’t confined to rugby either. Living in England I get told often enough that Scottish football is a Mickey mouse league because usually only 2 teams can win it – the counter argument is only 3 teams winning the English version, but that is by the by)

    There are some who will say that the Pro12 is “failing”. This is errant nonsense. Attendances are up approximately 15% over the last 5 years, and higher profile sponsors and TV deals have been secured. It is also an error to look at attendances in comparison with the Aviva or Top 14 without factoring in what this means in terms of overall population – if you do that then the Pro12 looks in similar health.

    Where the problem lies is in future growth. The economic realities of having the English and French as neighbours means that there will always be the risk of being left behind due to an inability to match higher revenues. 6 years ago the Pro12 was regularly supplying Heineken Cup winners and finalists. The last 5 years? Different story as the heavily monied Toulon and Saracens have dominated.

    So what do the Pro12 do? Stand still? To do so would lead to a slow, interminable decline as the best players are lured away on big contracts. This would also harm Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Italian international rugby as player management would be at the behest of the PRL owners. So they are trying to be innovative, and should be applauded for it. South Africa has a mature rugby market, based in the same time zone – there are positives in this deal as well as the negatives. Yes, there is a risk it could all go badly wrong, but the alternative is slow decay.

    If, in time, this proves a success, then I would support further expansion. North America has huge potential, and if we don’t do it then the English will. The key is to learn from the mistakes made by Super Rugby, an to avoid repeating them.

    Looking forward to the announcement today!

    1. Did you not notice Leicester City winning the title last year? 4 different winners in the last 5 years too. Imagine that happening in the SPL!

      1. Didn’t mean to denigrate the achievements of Leicester at all :o). But if you look at the 25 years of the English Premier League, there have been 6 winners in that time. 2 of them – Blackburn and Leicester – are unlikely to trouble the engravers again, and Arsenal have been left behind due to money. That leaves the 2 Manchester clubs and Chelsea with 20/25 titles. Rather predictable.

      2. But far less predictable than Scottish football (4 fewer Champions in that same period – and I didn’t even need to look it up).
        I’m sorry you can’t acknowledge Leicester winning the title but then dismiss anything of this nature happening again?
        Arsenal not winning because of money? Rubbish. Poor signings perhaps but not money problems.
        Not to mention Spurs and Liverpool as genuine contenders in that time. Has anyone outside the Old Firm even got within 10 points of winning the title in that time?
        Check the odds, how many clubs in EPL have a chance of winning the title this coming season, i.e. shorter odds than maybe 30/1? How many in Scotland?

      3. 4 fewer champions correct, but twice the number of teams, and in terms of repeat offenders it works out roughly the same. It’s not just the English & Scottish leagues though, if you look at the Italian, Spanish, Brazilian leagues, wherever they have had one set up for a significant period of time, you will find that it is dominated by a handful of clubs. In Scotland currently that has been skewed by the absence of Rangers, and the lack of creditable opposition beyond that. Having the odd team win at as a flyer – Leicester last season, or Dundee Utd/Aberdeen during the early 80s in Scotland doesn’t take away from the fact that most years the name on trophy will look very similar to last year. And that isn’t too say that the occasional win will go the way of a less fashionable club – that is very much possible, but it’s highly unlikely to happen twice in a row, and pigs are flying to make it three, no matter the odds bookies are tempting gullible punters with at the start of the season.

        But that off topic slightly. The only relevance to rugby is that money talks, loudly, and its effects can be seen very clearly in the English & French leagues.

  14. Can I have a special credit for forecasting the format? It looks like my comment of 11th July (“Thoughts on the PRO12 Expansion to South Africa”) was spot on. this has been confirmed as below:
    Play everyone in your conference home and away (6 x 2 games).
    Play everyone in the other conference once (7 x 1 games).
    Irish/Welsh play those of your country in the other conference an additional fixture (2 x 1 game).
    Scottish/Italian/SA play those of your country in the other conference twice more (1 x 2 games).
    21 games each.
    This means the 1872 cup would no longer be on aggregate score, but best of three matches!

    1. It’s an awful format. If 14 sides is too much for home/away in one table (i.e. 26 games) then do your two Conferences of 7 each, playing 12 games, and then go straight to play-offs. These can be created to involve plenty more games if you want more rugby, you can build these in multiple ways but at least it can be done fairly.
      What I can’t condone is unfair home/away advantages of playing the other Conference sides just the once in additional fixtures just to make up the numbers. Not to mention the ridiculous local derby add-ins. Why does rugby do this? Consistent amateurism. There should be symmetry and consistency in scheduling (and yes, I’m aware of the obvious discrepancy re:6 Nations, but at least you’re only playing everyone once).

      1. Playing 12 games then going straight to play-offs would mean starting the play-offs before Christmas!! What do you expect the teams not involved in the play-offs to do for the rest of the season?
        It’s not amateurism – quite the opposite – it’s all about the money, with a caveat that we cannot fit in any more fixtures.
        I think this is a good compromise. As an example, the “unfair” part of only playing Leinster once, away, will be mitigated by the fact that you’re only playing Ulster once, at home. Remember that you’re really competing against those in your conference, and you play them home AND away.
        Until there is relegation from the Pro12/14, any play-offs between bottom sides is meaningless.

      2. As I stated above, you can build the play-offs in multiple ways. They could easily incorporate every team. Sure, those finishing ‘stage 1’ should/would get easier run of it. Off the top of my head, Round 2 – 7th in Conf 1 plays two-legged tie against 2nd in Conf 2 and so on (6th vs 3rd, 5th vs 4th). 1st in each Conf gets bye to QF as reward for winning respective Conference. QF sees winner of the above 6 ties and two Conf winners meet over two legs and then Semis and Final. Playing in the Final (having not won Conf) would mean 19 fixtures in total. Is this enough? Too many? Those knocked-out in say, 2nd round, could even carry on a secondary comp for Challenge Cup places?
        I just don’t believe in shoe-horning in extra games without symmetry or reward for early performance.

      3. Merlot, if you’re only competing against those in your conference, then what’s the point in playing those who aren’t in your conference? Isn’t that just an exhibition game? I’d like to see the conferences mixed up every three years, so that over two years your team plays teams from the other conference home and away, and then the makeup of each conference changes. It’s still an unattractive solution. I’d rather they kept it in a league format and ditched the playoffs and final.

      4. It’s all about the money. Interest in the Pro12, outside of the clubs’ respective fans, is limited to 1. The derbies and 2. The play-offs. So the authorities have to protect those, whilst not increasing the number of games.
        Keeping a straightforward league format increases the number of fixtures, obviously. Even if you ditch the play-offs. If I was being heartless I’d ditch Zebre to reduce the number of fixtures to 24 but you’re still getting rid of the money-spinning play-offs.
        Changing to WestCountry’s conference system means you’re automatically reducing the number of derbies, thereby reducing the finances. You’re also severely limiting the fixtures for those knocked out in Round2, to just 14 fixtures. What do you expect them to do from February onwards? (having a secondary comp for Challenge Cup places is meaningless, as everyone gets into the Challenge Cup).
        Everyone would rather keep a straightforward league comp, with home & away against everyone else. But we can’t without increasing the number of fixtures and there just isn’t room in the calendar.
        TeamCam – Rather than mixing up the conferences every year, I’m sure they’ll sort out the fixtures so if you don’t play Leinster at home this year, you will next year (for example).
        With the possibility of a US team, not to mention Georgian, Russian or Spanish sides, a conference system will also allow for future expansion being a little easier.

    2. Are you spot on with your forecast Merlot? The statement issued yesterday from the league contains the following:

      Celtic Rugby can confirm that advanced & positive discussions are taking place with the South African Rugby Union regarding the introduction of 2 teams into an expanded Guinness PRO12 Championship.

      Given the proximity of the 2017/18 season start, a final decision on this potential expansion will be confirmed as soon as practical.

      It’s only 52 words, and says nothing about format, number of games, number of derbies, or anything else. Until the league makes an official announcement next week it is all conjecture. I don’t think you will be far off with what you have said, but perhaps the opportunity will be there to reduce the number of games that overlap the 6N. If this is the case then it may be that it’s a straight H/A against your own conference + 1 game against each of other conference. Fewer derbies – which may or may not be a divisive option with fans.

      Whatever happens I’d buy a lottery ticket if I was you as I don’t think you will be far off!

      1. You’re absolutely right, Ade – I was taking the BBC article by Tom English as gospel. Obviously we’ll have to wait for a formal announcement.

      2. “If this is the case then it may be that it’s a straight H/A against your own conference + 1 game against each of other conference. Fewer derbies – which may or may not be a divisive option with fans.”

        There will be 12 conference games and 7 games against the other conference which makes 19 and an extra derby game to make 20.

  15. I was sceptical about the Kings after there inaugural season but when they dont have to play against the powerhouse NZ teams they have been quite good, beating the Argentinian side as well as many others. With rumours that the Saffers have always wanted to break the northern hemisphere they pour much more into these sides then we expect especially if it helps losing players to us and the other Celtic Nations. As for the Italians Pro 12 need to desperately cut there loss. Its not there duty to promote rugby in country who dont seem to care. AS for Pro 12b that would be another job World Rugby to do or the unions of the respected nations.

  16. Breaking news: none other than Craig Joubert will be one of the officials joining the new Pro-14, as part of the deal to bring in the Cheetahs and Kings!

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