Thursday 15 November 2018

Opposition from clubs sees IRFU withdraw AIL revamp plans

“In the coming weeks the IRFU will commence a further period of engagement with the Clubs and Branches to ensure the long-term sustainability of the All-Ireland League. The IRFU wishes to thank clubs for their engagement over the last few months.” Photo: Sportsfile
“In the coming weeks the IRFU will commence a further period of engagement with the Clubs and Branches to ensure the long-term sustainability of the All-Ireland League. The IRFU wishes to thank clubs for their engagement over the last few months.” Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The IRFU has withdrawn its proposal for a new-look All-Ireland League. In a memo sent to clubs on Friday, the union kicked for touch on an issue that has met with widespread opposition across the four provinces.

"Following consultations with Clubs the IRFU will not be progressing the proposal 'Future Proofing the AIL' as circulated in May 2018," wrote director of rugby development, Scott Walker.

"In the coming weeks the IRFU will commence a further period of engagement with the Clubs and Branches to ensure the long-term sustainability of the All-Ireland League. The IRFU wishes to thank clubs for their engagement over the last few months."

The IRFU response follows club meetings around the country where there was opposition to a league with two top tiers of eight clubs, where there would be a regional spread guaranteed for two seasons and no limit on contracted players.

Meetings between clubs in Leinster and Munster also threw up issues over the temporary suspension of promotion and relegation, to achieve the representation from the four provinces in the top two tiers, and the number of clubs in each division.

If a solution can't be found then there will be an issue for the four provincial sides in how to occupy those players not involved in either Guinness Pro14 or Champions Cup/Challenge Cup action. With the B&I Cup now scrapped, a new competition - the Celtic Cup - kicks off next month between Irish provincial 'A' sides and the four Welsh regions, but this will wrap up in October.

It's likely there will be a regulation change to the AIL, which kicks off in the first week of October, to widen the window for contracted players to take part. Currently a maximum of two pro forwards and two backs are allowed; this will be upped to three plus three.

This is far short of what the IRFU wanted, however, with its original proposal for a league where the top end fed into the pro game with no restrictions.

"We'll have to find something but whatever we find might be far less palatable to the clubs than what was on the table from us," an IRFU source said yesterday.

"The gap between the professional and club game is getting wider and this was an honest attempt to bridge that gap."

Given that Scotland's new Super 6 club competition doesn't kick off until season 2019/'20, it's understood the SRU will not commit to any other pro competition - thus ruling out getting on board with the Celtic Cup - until they see how that pans out.

It is unclear as of yet how the IRFU will go about filling the gap they hoped would be taken up by a revised All-Ireland League.

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