No light at end of tunnel for Italy
While little fault can be levelled at Celtic Rugby for the inability of the Italian Rugby Federation (FIR) to meet the conditions pertaining to the participation of Italian clubs in the Magners League, it's nonetheless a disappointing outcome -- regardless of how the various rugby authorities might wish to dress it up.
If losing inspirational captain Sergio Parisse wasn't devastating enough ahead of another Six Nations -- in which the Azzurri will almost certainly finish last -- then this latest decision, crushing the Magners dream, has removed any chink of light for the Italian game moving forward.
Whatever it takes to get domestic rugby in Italy (and Argentina) to a level whereby the best of indigenous talent can be kept at home, then that's the route the IRB must take. Celtic Rugby must of course protect its own -- its existing clubs -- but, equally, the IRB must leave no stone unturned in the bid to make Italian rugby more competitive.
An Italian entrance into the Magners League is not the ideal solution (given the presence then of four of the six competing Heineken Cup nations) but, as a short-term step on the road to increasing competitiveness, it appears the most logical way to go.
Tickets for Ireland's game against Italy on Saturday are freely available and I suspect that will become increasingly the case for this fixture in time to come. It's not yet crisis point, but last Friday's announcement sees us well on the way.