Welsh holding out for highest bidder


As we gathered up our stuff in the stand in Thomond Park last Saturday night, to head over to the post match press conference, a couple of Welsh and English colleagues asked which was the quickest way to get there.

“Sorry lads,” I said. “It’s for Irish journos only. Just those aligned to the Celtic brotherhood and signed up to the Accord.”

It was a joke. And en route to the other side of the ground we reminded our Welsh friend in particular how his lot would be quick to jump the fence – historically they have one leg over anyway –  if they thought the grass there was a nicer shade of green.

It kept us going until we arrived at the press room and the review of Munster’s win over Gloucester took over from the issue of where both teams would be playing their European rugby next season. If anywhere.

So when news broke last night of the Welsh regions declaring their love for the proposed Rugby Champions Cup it was, as they say in text land, an lol moment. Having been earmarked as the first to drop their drawers, the Welsh had assumed the position.

This was being interpreted first thing this morning as the final nail in the coffin of the Heineken Cup. Hmm, not so sure about that.

If there were gold medals on offer for preparing the battle-ground then PRL would be top of the podium. Just before ERC kicked off this season’s round of Heineken Cup regional launches PRL grandly produced the Rugby Champions Cup title, a daft handle but one that coloured in the picture of a new game in town.

Then, on the eve of today’s talks, they succeed in getting the Welsh to declare allegiance to something that as yet doesn’t exist, and has a broadcast deal that will be subject to legal challenge and whose detail has never been put on the table.

Meantime the backing track has featured chairmen from various Premiership clubs warning the Celts of the post Apocalyptic scene they will face if they don’t get on board.

This campaign has been so successful that what’s left of the Celtic alliance are bending over backwards to compromise and keep the show on the road. And does this alliance include the Welsh?

I think it probably does, in so far as their statement was worded carefully to leave the door open: they will run with whoever sets the right pace. And if that’s ERC, giving them more cash – they couldn’t give a toss about the structure etc – then fine.

What the Welsh want more than anything is the ability to budget with some confidence, to know that they might be involved with something that allows them turn a profit and keep their players in Wales. I’d say the eight Premiership clubs in England who lost money last season might settle for something similar.

The meeting in Dublin gets underway in a few hours and is scheduled to run through until tomorrow. Although I understand Stuart Gallacher, the Welsh regions rep, may be in town, I wonder will he skip the meeting to give his position some more clout. This is their demand to their own union, who they have been butting heads with over a new domestic accord, and ERC, to draw a new map with only prosperous countries. If that includes Wales in a revised and more profitable Heineken Cup then that’s what they’ll go for.

About Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning has been involved in rugby all of his life as a player, coach and journalist. He has been rugby correspondent on the Sunday Independent since 1996, and has been reporting on the game since the mid 1980s when he stopped playing with Clontarf. In 2007 his book From There to Here, a definitive account of Ireland’s transition from amateur to professional rugby, was published to critical acclaim.
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