Peter Bills: Italians' Celtic League hopes begin to fade as negative vibes persist
A decision on two Italian clubs' inclusion in the Celtic League from as early as next season could be made within the next 10 days, it emerged last night.
One League official stated: "We need to have an understanding on this, one way or the other, ideally before the start of the Six Nations," adding with heavy understatement, "that doesn't leave much time."
But it is also clear that League officials believe there is still no more than a "50-50 chance" of the plan coming to fruition. Much work has been done on the proposal so that, as one official said, "we are at the nuts and bolts end of it".
Even so, the mood in Italian rugby circles is somewhat depressed. They believe that the plan, for Benetton Treviso and Viadana to participate in the Celtic League, may yet founder.
One Italian official put the blame for such a view on the Scots whom, he alleged, were "not keen on the idea". But a senior League official who wished to speak off the record, said: "To say one party is against this would be quite wrong. There are varying levels of positivity and Celtic Rugby overall has an open mind on it.
"There is a willingness to make it happen provided the conditions are right. By that, I mean commercial conditions as much as aspects relating to on the field. This has to represent added value and not reduce our competition."
In other words, the three Celtic countries want to be sure the inclusion of two Italian teams would not result in them losing out financially. Splitting the cake four ways instead of three may not be attractive. Thus, commercial partners would be needed but in the current economic climate, that could be problematic.
What is clear is that if the idea is not enacted for next season, the Italians could face a further lengthy wait. Nothing will happen in 2011 because it is Rugby World Cup year. So all the Italians can do is hold their breath and hope.