Martin Anayi wants to inaugurate sustainable URC women’s competition

Jamison Gibson-Park of Leinster runs in to score his side's fifth try during the URC quarter-final against Cell C Sharks at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

David Kelly

United Rugby Championship chief Martin Anayi has reiterated his desire to inaugurate a female version of the competition but insists that it must be sustainable.

And he has dismissed calls for a salary cap to rein in Leinster dominance and hinted that there may yet be a chance of an Irish side playing a league game in Boston.

"That's a key initiative internally for us,” said Anayi on a new female element, although stakeholders will surely be mindful of not merely mimicking the men’s competition, given the vast gulf in standard between European nations and their respective leagues.

“Over 50 per cent of our workforce are women and are very, very keen as we are, as I am, to see a women's competition of some description.

“There has been a competition which the Celtic unions ran through the Six Nations. We were asked to have a watching brief of that and see if there was anything we could add so we're starting to do that.

“I've actually got a few of our team working on a case study and a business case for a women's competition.

“What are the different options? We're really keen on talking to the England Premier 15s and learning a lot of lessons that they're learning through the process of what the RFU have done with that.

“We want to be really integrated at union level and at World Rugby level so lots and lots of conversations are ongoing. The desire is absolutely there.

“Our clubs are starting to vote with their feet. The Bulls have just launched a women's team in South Africa.

“There comes a point when you have to piece this all together and say, 'right, this is what we're going to do.

“At European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), with my other hat on, they are really keen to see a European women's competition of some description as well because it's very important that we've got that on the agenda so we're trying to talk to our French colleagues and the Premier 15s.

“I think the Women's Six Nations, for example, is going great guns. We're learning a lot from them and what the TikTok guys have done with that.

“There absolutely has to got to be a competition in there somewhere. We just want to make sure that it's as good and sustainable as possible.”

Anayi also revealed he had explored the possibility of a secondary men’s competition to fill in the slots when there are no league games due to international windows.

“We were really keen to see a cup competition played during Rugby World Cup. I would say that the response to that was a bit patchy. We couldn’t get what we thought was the right group.

“We want everyone to be involved in that rather than a few. So we couldn’t get consensus on that and I think that might have been on costs, quite honestly, with some of the teams. So perhaps it was more about timing rather than not liking the idea itself.

“You’d like to see a cup competition to fill the void without jeopardising what I think we’ve got going with the URC, which is really good – it’s young but it’s getting better by the day.”

Anayi has dismissed suggestions that a salary cap could be imposed within either the URC or Champions Cup, despite persistent mutterings from critics at home and abroad, in particular aimed at Leinster’s budget.

There has been a suggestion that clubs might have to limit the amount of players they register but that is unlikely to gain traction.

“During Covid, the URC and EPCR did apply a registration limit so whether you need to go back to that and register a certain amount of players, that has been brought up by EPCR, and is something URC might consider.

“But that is a stick. It’s incumbent on other teams to come up to the level of a Leinster and that will make the league more competitive.

“If you bring in a situation where different cohorts play in different competitions, that might create problems elsewhere.”

As for the perennial possibility of Boston hosting Munster versus Leinster, cold water was applied once more.

“We actually generate the most amount of money from the TV deal in the States than any other leagues.

“It shows certainly an Irish element of the audience is significant in the United States and they would absolutely support our teams going over there and playing.

“We have been discussions with people over in Boston. I can't find the right date.

“Taking an interpro though like a Munster v Leinster game, it's a whole different kettle of fish isn't it?

“One of the key reasons why somebody puts the hard-earned money into a season ticket is because they want to go see a game at Thomond Park or the Aviva Stadium.

“So I think it would be hard to take a Munster v Leinster game away, but there might be other combinations that could work out there. We haven't found the right solution yet.”