Sunday 17 December 2017

Provinces' success makes international side a hard sell

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The IRFU agm is more of a pilgrimage than a trip. You go along because you have to take some pain in order to get to the truth. By truth we mean the blunt stats of how much wedge is still in their trouser pockets, and who in the rugby family is costing them the most.

The figures, given the basket case country we live in, were not bad at all, with the union returning a cash surplus of €2.4m. In his address to the meeting, however, treasurer Tom Grace gave us a little insight into his world when he stated, "If we don't have it, we can't lend it". That was a reference to how the clubs' struggle to repay union loans impacted on the IRFU's capacity to lend again. He didn't say that the clubs' slice of the cake has been thinned to 15 per cent, down consistently from the 2008 figure of 20 per cent.

Grace grabbed everybody's attention when he referred to the "two key risks" facing Irish rugby: the economic conditions in Ireland, and the impending battle over restructuring the Heineken Cup. Just when you thought he was going to share some insight into what the union wanted from the latter, he declared it would require "careful management". You think?

That battle is about France and England wanting to reduce the Heineken Cup to a 20-team tournament with only eight teams coming automatically from the Pro12. As we pointed out in these pages two months ago, that may not be the doomsday scenario which is the default position of the Celts and Italy.

Grace might also have referred to the resale over the next two years of (3,200) 10-year tickets in Lansdowne Road as a key risk. Indeed he could have gone farther and alluded to the Heineken Cup being a key risk to the future of the national team.

The success of our provinces in Europe has robbed emotional and financial support from the Ireland set-up. Grace and his pals made a horlicks of pricing tickets in the new stadium in 2010, and now they have to pitch the resale of the next wave of 10-year tickets to a public who have been battered by the economy, and have had their heads turned by another suitor -- namely Leinster.

You might never have thought we would arrive at a point where the second tier would outsex the top, but it's happening. And what unfolded in Hamilton two months ago didn't help.

We're going to take a wild stab here and say that there won't be a rush on Ireland jerseys when November rolls around. This might come as a surprise to the IRFU council for none of them on Friday night mentioned the record defeat by the All Blacks.

In his outgoing presidential address, John Hussey took as his theme the power of basic values. Nowhere, he said, was this more evident than in Christchurch which he visited on Ireland's tour in June.

"They were going back to their basic values of community and integrity and support," he said. "It was a recognisable situation where their values were connected to what they were doing."

And he was absolutely right. Without values we are nothing. It was well received. Unlike earlier when contributors from the floor were queuing up to pay tribute to the under 20 side's efforts in the Junior World Cup, nobody thought it worth pointing out that the senior tour had ended in the most humiliating defeat in Irish rugby history, and that maybe it was worth dwelling on for a moment.

Not a mention anywhere. Now there's a key risk for you. Go and sell that to the public.

Sunday Indo Sport

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