On the face of it the qualification of three Irish teams for the four knockout spots in the Magners League was very good for business here. On Friday we had Leinster withstanding the physical barrage of an Ulster side for whom getting to the business end of both Europe and Magners was a good season, and then Munster, despite making it hard on themselves, buried the Ospreys. Clearly the professional game here is high profile and fairly healthy.
Compared to our Celtic cousins it’s thriving. Currently the high point of interest in rugby in Wales is whether or not Warren Gatland has lost the plot in including Gavin Henson in his extended World Cup squad. And if you were to ask what tops the charts for sport in general in Wales right now it’s the prospect of Swansea and Cardiff City meeting on the same platform for a train into the Premiership next season. How many times have you come across matches featuring either football club in the Liberty Stadium, or Cardiff City Stadium, and paused while you took in the sight of a full house? Rugby may be the national game in Wales but effectively South Wales is its heartland. Yet the only time you’ll see the Ospreys or Cardiff Blues fill their grounds is for local derbies at Christmas.
Football meanwhile is packing them in. And how have they performed in Celtic rugby over the years? The Ospreys lead the pack with three titles, and Scarlets have won it once. Cardiff have yet to do better than runner up, and the Dragons are the equivalent of Connacht for whom making the top four is not on the agenda. You’d think that those three wins for the Ospreys would translate into European success but they haven’t got past the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup. And this season they didn’t even get that far.
Ireland meanwhile have picked five Magners League titles, with a sixth on the way before this month is out, and have every chance now of making it four Heineken Cups in six seasons.
As for the Scots, the debate is gradually getting underway over there about their suitability for professional rugby at all. In 10 years of Celtic competition the best they have managed was Edinburgh filling the runner up slot behind Munster two seasons ago. The same club have only managed to get out of their European pool once. In fact they have never even managed the runner up position in the pool, and propped it up this season with one win from six. None of this should be a cause for celebration over here.
The weaker the contribution of Welsh and Scottish teams to the Magners League the poorer Ireland’s preparation for everything. We need the Italians to catch on fast and bring some commercial advantage to the table, but mostly we need our Celtic cousins to wake up, for their ineptitude will drag us down. A crap Celtic competition may be easy enough for Irish teams to win, but it’s in nobody’s interest.