Tony Ward: I fear there's no solution . . .
. . . so let's just enjoy European action while we still can
WITH all the on-field excitement surrounding the sixth series of Heineken Cup matches, a rather important meeting took place in the immediate aftermath of the weekend events at Heathrow on Monday.
Unfortunately, because of the number of attempted pow-wows at every level, the public at large has become apathetic towards the latest release, whether it comes from Dublin, London, Paris or wherever.
Apparently, on the back of this latest Six Nations Council gathering, "a resolution to the future of the Heineken Cup is in sight".
It is, of course, the type of news we all want to hear, but while heavy on spin, it is equally short on detail other than to reveal the up-to-date position of the Unions as reverting to where they were almost three months ago.
What I wouldn't give for a magic wand to clear this unadulterated mess and somehow get compromise – for common sense to prevail.
I fear greatly that a unified workable solution will never be found.
The fact that a deadline has been set for the end of the month is encouraging, but I fail to see any sustainable way out, short of two parallel European tournaments – one the Champions Cup, driven by the English clubs, and the other a watered-down version of the ERC tournament (to be administered by a different body), the one we have come to know and love unconditionally up until now.
If a rugby alien came down and saw the incredible competition we had and the self-destructive route we are heading, he would be on the next craft home bewildered.
Once clubs in England and France contracted players independent of the ruling bodies (RFU and FFR), this impasse was inevitable. The only surprise is that it has taken so long for the head-on smash.
But where there's talk, there's hope, and I continue to be an optimist. Yet would I put my money on a quick-fix solution at this point in time? No.
Concern in Ireland extends beyond European involvement itself because however weaker the Heineken Cup would be minus an English involvement, a Celt-Italian league, shorn of the Welsh, would be unsustainable.
And to add to the recent litany of woes, the Italian Federation is contemplating pulling the plug on its Pro12 involvement too.
A short-term solution will be found because it has to be, but despite the positive vibes emanating from Heathrow, the pro game in this part of the world is in the mire, a long way still from the resolution suggested.
For now, let us enjoy what we have while we still have it because no one knows what lies ahead.
Idiotic 'Ash splash' ruins Sarries' fine work
Two aspects to the Sarries/Connacht match worth commenting on.
Firstly, I haven't been to the new Allianz Park yet, but watching a live broadcast from there for the first time I was struck by the cramped nature of the boundaries on the artificial pitch, particularly in the goal area at either end. They looked uncomfortably narrow and potentially dangerous.
Not for a minute am I suggesting that this contributed to an abysmal performance from Connacht, but I feel the rugby authorities should compel clubs to have standard dimensions.
Saracens were particularly impressive in their 11-try rout of a Connacht squad that failed to turn up. The domination they established early on was retained by way of relentless intensity all the way through with the Vunipola brothers – Billy and Mako – leading the charge. These two, along with George Kruis and Schalk Brits, were really impressive.
It was hard not to admire the expansive quality of the English Premiership leaders' play.
Then, bringing us to our second talking point, enter the plonker that is Chris Ashton. I hope this guy gets his comeuppance and soon, be it through dropping the ball or landing flat on his face when doing his so-called 'Ash splash'.
In a moment of typical Ashton arrogance, he undid all the good work built by his team for the guts of the preceding 80 minutes.
Saracens' Mark McCall is a good guy and a very good coach to boot. He is on the road to better things if he so wants. One way he could further enhance his growing reputation is by taking this idiot to one side and calling him out for the clown he is.
Ashton's splash is every bit as ugly and idiotic as the fool performing it.
IRFU don't have to look far for reasons why crowds at AIL matches are getting smaller
As regular readers of these pages will know, I still believe in the rugby gospel according to the AIL.
Crowds may be getting smaller by the season, but give me a choice between AIL and Pro12 and the former will be my favoured choice every time.
I try to stay in touch with the game at all levels; however, I was gobsmacked to read that UCD and holders Cork Constitution had qualified for the 2014 Ulster Bank Bateman Cup final when beating Galwegians and Queen's University respectively in the semi-finals.
I hadn't the foggiest idea the games were played.
But then, being the most exciting Heineken Cup weekend of the six played so far, why would we expect these games to be played at a time when almost every other rugby follower in the land was either supporting their province in the flesh, or watching in from afar?
They really do love their club rugby in Lansdowne Road.