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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Greed is not always good for the game

English and French owners endanger The Lions

Irish and Lions prop Tadhg Furlong. Pic: Sportsfile
Irish and Lions prop Tadhg Furlong. Pic: Sportsfile

The balance of power in rugby is swinging where it always does - towards the money men.

Don't forget, rugby is still in its infancy as a professional sport.

While so much has changed in a short period of time since the game turned in 1995/1996, the future, in so many ways, is still uncertain.

The main example of how the French and English clubs are beginning to squeeze the game in Europe is right there in The Champions Cup.

Price

It was always going to be a matter of time before the Italian clubs would pay the price for the change of power out of the hands of all and into the grasping clutches of the greedy.

Back in May of this year, European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), the governing body of The Champions Cup, announced how next season the seven qualifiers from the PRO12 League 2017/2018 season will come exclusively from the Top-7 clubs.

This is a survival of the fittest and the finest. .

It doesn't take a genius to work out how this sounds the death knell of Italian club rugby unless a 'money mogul' can arrive to transform one of their two ailing clubs in the PRO12 League.

In addition, it will compromise Italy's capacity to compete in the Six Nations, especially as Georgia continue to make progress out east.

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to witness the demise of the Italian clubs in the PRO12, reducing the competition to ten and ruining their Six Nations status.

Now, the British & Irish Lions Manager John Spencer has described moves to condense the tour further from six-to-five weeks as "bordering on insanity."

This season alone, the switch from The English Premiership final to the tour opener against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians was done in one week.

The jet lag hangover was a major factor in how badly the tourists played in their first game.

In plain speak, they have nothing more to give, in terms of time.

Spencer is outraged at the push to shorten the traditional highpoint for 'the best of the best.'

"If they take a couple of matches away from us, all coaches think that is madness, bordering on insanity - voluntary insanity," he said.

"If we are not careful with preparation I think the Lions could be a dead concept.

"The clubs would be killing it by demanding extra things every year - shorter tours, fewer matches, less preparation.

"Meanwhile, with one fewer match before the first Test, the Lions would come under incredible pressure from the host nation," he declared.

"It is easy to say, 'don't play the midweek matches'.

"But, how do we prepare? Our tour has to have moral force.

"We are going to put so much pressure on the coaches and players at the end of a busy season and they will eventually, because it is such an impossible task, not want to go."

This is where the big money men of the English and French Leagues are becoming a cancer in the game, slowly eating away at the great traditions, undermining the international game.

Already, the Irish, Welsh and Scottish clubs are finding it almost impossible to compete with the instant fix provided by a bigger wallet.

The burden is to produce from within with a number of add-ons from the outside.

Okay, the Leinster Academy may just be the northern hemisphere equivalent of The Crusaders.

But, what about Munster, Ulster and Connacht? They do not have the population base, in terms of players in the provinces, to continue to challenge at the elite end of the club game - no matter what happened for Munster this season.

There is the care and consideration for 'Player Welfare'.

In Ireland, the provinces bend over backwards to assist players in ongoing education to have a fall back plan should their dreams not come true.

The hierarchy that controls the game here, the IRFU, has created a model designed to develop international players.

From there, the pinnacle of the game is to reach for the stars, the British & Irish Lions tour every four years.

Whatever about the hype, there is a deep pride in seeing Peter O'Mahony captain the test side and Seán O'Brien, Conor Murray and Tadhg Furlong in the first fifteen at Eden Park this morning.

The ceiling of the ambition of private owners in England and France is The Premiership and The Top-14, respectively.

They are not interested in putting in the supports that benefit their nations or their players making it to the international level.

The more they are away they less than can play for the club.

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