Friday 30 September 2016

Pro12 refuse to give up on money-spinning plan to bring in American sides

Published 24/08/2016 | 02:30

Robbie Henshaw gets the champagne flowing after Connacht won last season's Pro12. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw gets the champagne flowing after Connacht won last season's Pro12. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Pro12 chief executive Martin Anayi

The chief executive of the Guinness Pro12 has admitted that ambitious plans to expand the competition into the lucrative North American market by including US and Canadian clubs "may not get done".

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As the competition was launched in the 2017 final venue, the Aviva Stadium, yesterday, Martin Anayi conceded that there was no time-line about the potential recruitment of American and Canadian franchises, as the Pro12 struggles to keep up with the financial superpowers of the French Top 14 and English Premiership.

"It's hard to give you timelines," said Anayi. "We're just at too early a stage of discussion. The reality is that it may not get done.

"If it is bad for player welfare or it is bad logistically - there are a lot of things that could not work out, but it is a very positive discussion at this point in time.

"But there is a huge diaspora - 19 million people class themselves as Irish-American - and the interest in rugby following the Olympics is huge. It's a massive TV market."

There is a real determination within the Pro12 to shed its image as the poor relation of Europe's big three leagues, and with Guinness committing to another three-year sponsorship - believed to be a substantial increase on their current purported €2.5m deal - Anayi is aggressively pursuing a variety of proposals.

Chief amongst these is a commitment to ensure that more internationals are playing regularly in league games, particularly outside Test windows, although he will face stiff competition from the IRFU, who insist that their leading players are rested for four to eight regular games a season.

Despite their expansionist plans, Pro12 organisers are also committed to playing less games per season, with a move to a conference-style system still being mooted, which would benefit Irish provinces as there could be a guaranteed extra derby per season.

Irish Independent

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