Is the End of the Heineken Cup an Opportunity for the Clubs?

With the French and English rugby federations making noises about setting up a new competition consisting only of themselves, could we be looking at the end of the European Cup after eighteen years?  Perhaps.  After all, it must be galling for these two large countries to see the likes of Munster, Leinster and Ulster winning the tournament, not just once, but six times out of eighteen.

Munster rugby heineken cupAnd much though it irks me to admit it, they have a point.  Munster, Leinster and Ulster are not clubs in the same sense that Northampton, Gloucester, Toulouse or Clermont might be.  They’re not independent entities, but simply various manifestations of the IRFU and what’s more, there are many devoted club people who consider the provinces a positively bad influence on club rugby in Ireland.

Munster Rugby has siphoned off the best of the best from local clubs, just as it has reduced attendance at local matches.  It now dominates rugby in what many would consider an unhealthy way.

Perhaps this threat from the English and the French will flush out the truth.  Perhaps people will stop thinking of Munster as a thing to be loyal to, and I have to say that even though I’ve taken great enjoyment from their exploits, I can see the point.

Maybe clubs like Garryowen, Shannon, Bruff, UL Bohs or Cork Con might not be able to compete at the same level as the likes of Toulouse or Clermont, but what would be wrong with setting up some new clubs that people might genuinely buy into?  Limerick.  Cork.  Blackrock.  (Sorry.  Just joking).

I truly think that a club called Limerick could take on the big names and generate the support needed.  It would also get rid of the pernicious IRFU involvement that has rubbed everyone up the wrong way and created the correct perception in Europe that the Irish were pulling a bit of a stroke.

Maybe the Brits and the Frogs are doing us a favour.  What do you think?


21 thoughts on “Is the End of the Heineken Cup an Opportunity for the Clubs?

  1. You can’t blame the Irish for getting it right with what they have achieved on such a relatively small budget . The top 3 or 4 French teams are buying their way to success with massive squads and cherry picking the best players in the world to the expense of their national team and losing any real sense of identity we take for granted in Ireland. It is no coincidence they aren’t producing top class Out halves anymore when most of those taking the field each weekend are from the other hemisphere. As for the English, the Premiership yawnfest has Saracens leading the way. This is about control, not the betterment of the game. They want the best possible competition for themselves, not the rest of Europe. Maybe they should sort their own inadequacies out before they whinge about the success of others. If there is and end to the HCup, and I very much doubt there will be , we will see all out best players in wine country in the space of two years. The IRB has the final say in all of this, not BT or the PRL. It is time Mark McCafferty and his cronies are put firmly in their place.

  2. It’s good that Heineken is done and being off the stuff myself makes it a no brainer.
    The effect for instance that it has had on Thomond Park the venue, has not been positive; my opinion.
    It would have been better if the current monstrosity got built outside of town.
    Meanwhile local clubs will continue to produce talent and the opportunities for players in the professional game will influence what ever changes do arise.
    It would be difficult to let go of a ‘Munster’ because of the connect with so many but the politics of money can cause all sorts of crazy shit.
    And as long as our human fickle nature doesn’t get distracted by a new super sporting option; and an option will most likely surface to take advantage of the gap that will arise, then rugby will continue locally as always, no matter what the club is called.

  3. Bock, as a Shannon man myself I have very fond memories of the ail heyday. I’d also describe myself as a Munster man and I rode the wave from 99 as much as anyone and more than most. There is a lot about the Munster setup that galls me and I don’t mind admitting it. I think though that your analysis fails on a number of key points. 1) since the game has the professional it is clear that Ireland right now could sustain 2-3 competitive clubs in any international context. The only reason we have 4 (3.5?) is because we have bought in so many players. 2) the real issue is the extent to which the Munster branch has a stranglehold on all operations down here. Leinster has always done a much better job at staying independent. 3) a limerick or cork franchise would not be any better than the current setup. At lease no evidence to suggest so. 4) Irfu has organised its resources to be as successful as possible in Europe. England and France have not done this as they have a much higher commercial focus and allegiance to their own leagues which are nothing to write home about. 5) IRB will decide this and Wales, Ireland and Scotland have enough clout to ensure ERC rugby survives IMO.

  4. The English and French do have a valid argument as to how the qualification process is determined from each league and how “we” appear to have an advantage in being able to rest players as qualification is almost a certainty for the top three Irish provinces. Their argument is helped by the likes of Edinburgh (who are guaranteed their place every season in the HEC) and some of the shocking performances they have produced in recent seasons. A top six only to qualify from the Rabo would certainly ensure a much more competitive league.There would probably be a downside but maybe it would be the kick in the hole that the Scottish and Italian clubs need.

  5. There was an interview earlier with a French based journo who reckoned according to French media etc, that they were going to push on with it. He also made the point that average attendances so far on the Top 14 were way higher than the pro 12 games, so it’s not like French clubs have anything to lose by not playing in the “H Cup”. Also mentioned they were thinking of expanding their league to 16 in the future.
    I wouldn’t agree with those who thing the Top 14 is rubbish. Matches so far this season in the pro 12 are rubbish. There are some seriously sh*t teams in it.

  6. Sorry, I forgot to add, that English, French based journalist was on Newstalk today Sun 15th. His name is Gavin Mortimer.

  7. I’m a big fan of the European Cup in its current format, but would agree with the French and English that the qualification system for the Irish/Scottish/Welsh is a joke.

    Shake this up by sending the top placed teams in the League (as opposed to a set number from each nation) to the EC. It makes the League much more competitive – clubs would have to field stronger teams, thus attracting bigger crowds.

    Squads will be stretched in the EC initially but clubs will learn to manage this over time, just like how they’ve learned to field reserves, up-and-comers and has-beens in the Rabo up to this point.

  8. I love the Heineken Cup as much as anyone, but that has been in spite of its idiosyncrasies rather than because of them. As astutely mentioned in today’s IT, Zebre lost all 28 competitive games they played last season, and yet they are still guarnateed a place in the HC? That’s just not right.

    The Italian teams were admitted to the HC back when they had no competitive rugby to play; they are now in the Rabo so they don’t need to provide cannon fodder in the HC.

    Qualification should be simple: Top 6 from each league (Rabo, Prem, T14) plus the winners of the previous years HC and Amlin.

    Cash apportioned evenly to each team and TV rights sold centrally. This problem is so easy to fix that it’s barely a “problem” at all. And to everyone who will chime in saying “What about the Scottish / Italian Clubs etc.” – what about them? If they are good enough to be in the HC they can prove it by getting themselves into a Top 6 position in the Rabo; if they can’t even make the top 6 in the Rabo (have Munster or Leinster ever been outside the top 6?) they are not going to cut it in the HC anyway so there’s no point in putting them there.

    We need to make the HC the premier club rugby competition on the planet. It’s within our grasp to do it. We really shouldn’t miss this opportunity.

  9. “I truly think that a club called Limerick could take on the big names and generate the support needed…”

    That’s dangerous talk Bock, so don’t go there.

    Between yourself and myself – the PLAN has been going relatively well of late, the Cork crowd continue to beat their breasts on occasion to express outrage at some or other perceived slight, like the perceived centralisation of the game in Limerick, what with Thomond and the (UL funded) training facility.

    It’ll be Limerick Rugby in no time at all Bock but do us a favour and keep it to yourself.

  10. Indeed, volunteer to shut down the loss making Muzzer or else fill the place. Those are ultimately the options.

  11. I think the competition should be left alone.I think that the English and French clubs have an advantage already with their squad sizes and finances.I think a lot of these tantrums are to do with the the fact that Irish clubs are winning to much with a lot less.Who do the Irish think they are winning all those cups?This is a bit tongue in cheek,but when the English and French were winning there was no talk about changing anything.Welsh clubs are not winning much,and if the same situation pertained with Irish clubs I don’t think there would be any talk of changing anything.This is my take on it,but then again maybe I’m wrong.

  12. I think it is more down to the fact the Munster Leinster and Ulster Ospreys Scarlets can rest players in the Raboknowing that they will still make HC as Connaught and their equivilants wont out point them in the league

  13. @theotherron. Very good suggestion. On a side note how does the game develop in Italy and Scotland? Is it up to the individual rugby federations to promote and push it in Italy?
    Or should Italian and Scottish clubs be put in with other clubs from developing nations, and develop a third tier European competition. Maybe include Russian or Georgian clubs? (if they are good enough)

    Or is it up to the “strong” Euro rugby countries to help the weaker/developing countries along.
    Should we just accept that Italian club rugby is like League of Ireland football? Out national soccer players pretty much all play in England. Should the Italians just accept that their best players should play in England, or France, or Ireland even, and that this will help improve them as a national side in the 6 nations?

  14. There isn’t anything like the same gap between Scottish rugby and Irish as there is between League of Ireland and Premier.

    Personally, I wouldn’t like to see the Scottish and Italian clubs relegated to some limbo for the sake of television revenue. Instead, I’d prefer to see the standard of performance improve so that they can compete on an equal level. In the case of Scotland, that should be perfectly feasible, though it’s perhaps more difficult for the Italians.

  15. Hi Barry, Your questions are well worth exploring. What of the ‘weaker’ countries’? Who is responsible for the game’s development in these countries? Should we care if they can’t achieve qualification grade?

    Let’s be clear – This is about two things. Power and money.

    The position is that the English and French clubs ‘own’ their players and loan them to the unions for international duties. In the IRFU and the other unions (to a greater or lesser degree). The unions contract players centrally and exercise some athority over clubs.

    Rugby has become big business. Once big bisiness controls a sport rather than the respective unions, we end up with a similar set-up to soccer or even the American NFL.

    Money is in abundance in france, what with the sugar-daddies at Toulon, Racing Metro, Stade Francaise and Clermont.

    The English ‘Premeirship’ is effectively broke. Saracens (that appaling outfit) lost over £5m last season, Leicester lost over £1.5m.

    Conclusion: The French want the power – The English want the money.

    There is a huge risk here that the Scottish. Italian game will flounder and that Irish and Welsh rugby will be badly damaged.

  16. At a national level, what of the likes of Georgia, who showed some potential a few world cups back but seem to be in limbo.

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