No relegation as RaboDirect refuse to bow
THE Celtic nations will not introduce relegation to the RaboDirect PRO12, nor use the league as a qualifying tournament for the Heineken Cup, despite French and English club threats to quit the European tournament next year.
After just one English club featured in the last eight of the Heineken Cup in 2011-12, and only French club Clermont Auvergne prevented a clean sweep of PRO12 sides in the semi-finals, the English and French clubs have claimed that they are disadvantaged when it comes to Europe. They contend that as their clubs face the threat of relegation each season, they cannot afford to rest their players as often as the teams in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. That, they claim, is why the Celtic nations dominated the European competition last term, with Celts rested after the World Cup and Leinster going on to beat Ulster in the Heineken Cup final.
The league administrators in France and England have turned up the heat by insisting that they will not sign the new European Accord contract when it comes up next summer, and form a breakaway tournament, unless the RaboDirect PRO12 chiefs change their set-up.
Speaking at yesterday’s league launch in Glasgow, RaboDirect PRO12 chief executive John Feehan said: “My job is to make sure we have the best product we can have in the RaboDirect PRO12 and I don’t have to worry about the Aviva Premiership or the Top 14 in France.
“I don’t think relegation would be a good idea for us because it takes away from the quality of rugby. The fact that you can rotate your squad through a season means you end up with better quality rugby.
“The quality of our sides is evident from what’s happened in Europe over the last number of years, and I don’t think we should change our product because somebody from outside tells us to. I understand their complaints, but those are issues for the English and French to deal with domestically.”
The English and French leagues have suggested the PRO12 becomes a qualifier for the Heineken Cup whereby the top eight qualify, so Edinburgh, who reached the Heineken Cup semi-finals last season but finished 11th in the PRO12, would be one of four clubs not featuring this coming season.
At present, European qualification is based on countries with Scotland guaranteed two places in the Heineken Cup for Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Feehan said: “If the Heineken Cup changed their rules, that’s a matter for them, but all I can do is influence what happens in the PRO12. We have 22 rounds which is a hell of a lot of rugby and we need to rotate squads to have quality throughout.”
Leinster captain Leo Cullen added that that ability to rest in a season that features an autumn Test series and RBS Six Nations – and this season will end with a British and Irish Lions tour – was a key reason why the Irish provinces managed to keep virtually all of their leading talents.
Players and coaches spoke warmly of the development of the league at yesterday’s launch, held at the £74m Riverside Museum. The club representatives had been welcomed to the Scottish city on Monday evening with a reception in the impressive Glasgow City Chambers and Feehan pointed to that as evidence of how Celtic rugby, particularly Scottish rugby, is taking off.
“Under the new management at the SRU there is a lot more positive things to say about Scottish rugby,” he admitted. “The individual clubs are getting their act together and had a big increase in footfall through the gate last year.
“I know it’s from a small base, but you’ve got to start somewhere and we’re expecting it to improve significantly again this year. The key is that they are building; there is a momentum being generated in Scottish rugby now.
“Glasgow’s move to Scotstoun is fantastic because it’s a state-of-the-art facility, it’s got everything Glasgow need and is somewhere that they can call their own – a real Glasgow rugby home. They’re no longer an adjunct to a football club and it is a size that will create a great atmosphere regularly.”
Edinburgh are still in discussions with Edinburgh City Council about a potential move to a new Meadowbank Stadium, and Feehan would back such a move. After years of Welsh and Irish officials criticising their Scottish counterparts for failing to bring quality rugby, sponsors and broadcasters to the table, Feehan detects a changing attitude towards the Scots.
“We brought the launch to Scotland for the first time because we wanted to support what the SRU are doing and what Glasgow and the city council are doing here to help rugby and ultimately the league,” he added.
“We have the best professional league in Europe and the two Scottish teams are a fundamental part of that. They are coming to the table now with what really matters: the rugby. The rest will follow.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
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Temperature: 8 C to 18 C
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