Friday 23 March 2018

Neil Francis: Premiership's motley crew are risking financial oblivion with their arrogance

Chris Ashton scores a try during Saracens’ Heineken Cup game in Parma yesterday. Photo: Claudio Villa
Chris Ashton scores a try during Saracens’ Heineken Cup game in Parma yesterday. Photo: Claudio Villa

If we learned anything about the recent European spat, it is that you don't have to be smart to be a millionaire. I'm not sure how Nigel Wray earned his money, but I hope it was the hard way. His 'investment' in Saracens has been a disaster and he has been slowly selling his shareholding to Johann Rupert, the South African billionaire who most certainly did not earn his money the hard way.

The inevitability of PRL's dishonest and irresponsible attempt to break away and form the Rugby Champions Cup which came to a crashing conclusion last week brought into stark focus some of the central characters in this sorry episode. It served to magnify just who they were and what a disaster it would have been if these bandoleros had seized power and sought to govern the game in this part of the world.

Wading through the backwash of defeat, Wray claimed that the Welsh clubs would like to join the Premiership. "They'd love to play in the Aviva Premiership and we'd love it too," Wray said. "English and Welsh rugby has an enormous history, a rich culture of big club matches. What could be better than the restoration of the traditional fixtures, guaranteeing massive matches of real importance?

"We play each other anyway in the LV= Cup so why not make the fixtures really meaningful? An enlarged Aviva Premiership can be created with no extra fixtures to be squeezed into the calendar. It would be good for the WRFU because it would provide their teams with tougher competition.

"There are fantastic old rivalries there and games would sell out. Games like Leicester versus Cardiff and Scarlets versus Northampton would have real bite and meaning, which would appeal to the customers who often get forgotten in all of this.

"Bring in the Welsh, go to 16 teams and play 30 games plus the play-offs. You'd have to agree on promotion and relegation but that's not too difficult, so let's move forward and give our customers meaningful games."

Which planet does he inhabit? The LV= Cup, or the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society Ltd Cup, has been in existence in its current form since 2009; before that it was the EDF Energy Cup and before that . . . well who cares? This competition has been on the go in various guises for 41 years. The Taffies have won it just twice and frankly they don't give a shite about it. The competition is used to give squad members and hopefuls a run-out when the November and Six Nations international window is in play.

Is Nigel Wray suggesting that they extend the Premiership and retain this cup as well? Has he been to an LV= Cup match? What about the Taffs? If they are struggling in the Rabo, how will they do in the new Aviva Premiership? What happens when the Dragons get relegated? Do they play in the . . . eh . . . which league do they play in? Would they go back to the Rabo? Would the Rabo still exist if the Welsh left it? Nigel Wray doesn't really care what effect his bullshit half-arsed proposals would have on the Rabo. What about the South Africans I hear you say? Forget about the Taffies and start a competition with the Saffers, the Sanglo Cup. The South Africans could just totally rearrange their Currie Cup and Super XV schedules to accommodate a great new competition that will see thousands of Worcester Warriors fans head down to Bloemfontein to play the Free State Cheetahs. The Cook Islands maybe?

All of the Super XV and individual domestic competitions are sanctioned and governed by the SANZAR Unions. England and France alone have their domestic competition controlled by the clubs. That needs to change. It won't happen in France but now there is scope to do it in England. With the PRL on the floor but amazingly showing no outward signs of embarrassment why not turn this victory into a rout?

Mark McCafferty, whose position is untenable, has stated that the English clubs will stay out of Europe. They have nowhere else to go. If the PRL group of 12 Premiership clubs lost £19m last year how much will they lose if they choose not to participate? They would be due to pick up circa £18m under their new ERC revenue share-out agreement.

If McCafferty thinks that BT will absorb that loss by way of an increased contribution he is deluded. I wonder did he ever stop to ask the players or the supporters what they thought.

How can this highly damaging infighting be stopped? The model doesn't work and all the diverse commercial interests who invested in a rugby club have been badly burned. Buy the lot of them out.

The RFU will be hosting the World Cup in 2015 and England will field a team with kind permission of this motley rabble (PRL) and the RFU's coffers will swell.

Most of the Premiership clubs are under water and their sustained viability is a little more than uncertain. How do you value a club that loses money year after year? How do you value a club that has no ground or tangible assets? From speaking to people who would have knowledge in this area – a Premiership club with no ground/property that is losing money on an annualised basis is worth about £2-3m. High if you ask me.

A club like Leicester or Northampton, who own their own grounds and who do make a profit, well their multiplier would be a lot higher. Twelve clubs – £100m the lot! If the RFU have spent £100m on building a new hotel and renovating the Twickenham stands, surely £100m to control their players and have them centrally contracted would be money well spent – very well spent.

They already dole out £4m a year to each Premiership club for very little value in return. What price peace and harmony? If the island of Ireland can run four centrally controlled professional teams with a population of six million then why can't the English run 12 clubs with a population of 60 million?

If English teams don't have a diet of really competitive European competition and they insist on the abstentionist mode then their national team will wither. The RFU must know that.

Already I'm hearing of dissatisfaction in the English ranks. Not all the clubs are behind their leaders and as we speak a Five-Nation ERC accord is already in draft phase. The financial oblivion that these idiots forecast for the Celtic nations will visit them now and their folly, arrogance and town hall political rhetoric only leaves them one course of action. Do it quickly.

* * * * *

I watched Perpignan's meaty encounter against Clermont on Setanta last week. Clermont still look really good.

An easy grasp of the fundamentals and passing that put men into advantage was what got them past Perpignan. The Catalans couldn't live with the violence up front and the veneer behind. Simon Mannix was at the game and if he had some of Clermont's outfield runners he could plot. He doesn't and he needs to improvise.

Perpignan are a really good side but that means nothing at Thomond and in all likelihood they will leave with nothing. The Clermont game took a lot out of them and they shipped quite a few injuries. Their prop George Jgenti ended up heading back out onto the pitch with a broken arm and a bit of tape to support it. It didn't work. I think they will turn up light – just like Racing Metro did last season. They probably realise that Munster will have too much craft and aggression for them.

That said Gloucester showed up in October with a seconds side and gave Munster anxiety for long periods. What was Nigel Davies thinking? Munster were poor that day and awful the week before against Edinburgh.

It isn't about what Munster do today that determines how they get out of this group, it is how they approach the consecutive away matches to Perpignan and Gloucester. A lot of this group do not have experience of winning big games away from home and they will meet plenty of quality in the next few rounds.

James Hook is a very important player for Perpignan. He has experience of beating Munster with the Ospreys. The other lost Taffie in the Perpignan ranks is Luke Charteris, who is also beginning to function for them and his partnership with Sebastien Vahaamahina is as good as any in the competition. They will play next week. Today? Not so sure.

Munster, I am certain will perform and win today but their passage next week depends on how concise and accurate they are and whether their pack gets a bit of traction at tight and their ability to break tackles and maintain control of the ball. Lose and they are out. Fail to inspire today to lay a marker and next Saturday could be a long day.

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