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Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll. Picture credit; Ashleigh Fox / SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll. Picture credit; Ashleigh Fox / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll. Picture credit; Ashleigh Fox / SPORTSFILE

COULD this be the watershed final for the Celtic and Italian nations? Will it be a new beginning? Will it be the start of the end?

The speculation about Glasgow’s Stuart Hogg moving to Ulster or, indeed, a French or English club, will radically reduce Glasgow’s future plans as he follows Richie Gray out the door.

Hogg has already been deemed surplus to requirements for the PRO12 League final tomorrow night, being left out of their original squad.

The Welsh regions have lost Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips - he joined from Bayonne - and Dan Lydiate to Racing Metro, Leigh Halfpenny to Toulon, Luke Charteris to Perpignan in France, George North to Northampton Saints in England.

All the signposts point to increasing Irish domination of the PRO12 League as Leinster have confirmed the signing of Australia’s first-choice second row Kane Douglas.

Sure, they will lose Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen to retirement. But, that is a different thing.

Ulster are also said to be in the hunt for South African full-back Louis Ludik and have already signed another Springbok Franco van der Merwe to replace Johann Muller.

Munster have captured 23-year-old Tyler Bleyendaal from Canterbury Crusaders and Wexford’s Robin Copeland from Cardiff Blues.

Even Connacht have employed the services of All Black Mils Muliaina, potential Ireland international centre Bundee Aki and Auckland prop Tom McCartney.

All the while the Irish provinces are holding firm as the Welsh and Scottish clubs lose marquee players and the power of their stars to bring supporters through the turnstiles.

The problems in Welsh rugby were highlighted recently when Leinster A confronted Pontypridd in the semi-final of the British & Irish Cup semi-final at Sardis Road.

There were 5,500 supporters there to roar on the Welsh Principality club as an example of how the emotional tie to the club game has prevented the regions from grabbing a wider support base.

Irish rugby had a natural home in the provinces where history has played a major role for working from inherent identities.

flowing

The French Top-14 and The Premiership move ahead with ever increasing wads of money flowing into their competitions from the entrance of multi-millionaire owners into the market and shooting broadcasting funds.

In January, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) brokered a five-year deal with Canal+ worth e71 million for each of five seasons, beginning in 2014-2015.

Likewise, Premiership Rugby sold their broadcast rights in 2012 to telecoms giant BTSport for £152 million over four years, kicking off at the start of this season.

In contrast, Sky Sports clinched a four-year contract to show 30 matches and the play-offs from the Rabodirect PRO12 League from the 2014-2015 season, for a reported, not confirmed, £20 million, doubling the broadcasting total to an estimated £40 million when combined with the sales from their broadcast partners like BBC Wales, S4C, TG4 and RTE.

This is small change coming the way of the Celtic Nations and the Italian clubs, from the lower numbers, in terms of overall live spectators, television audiences allied to the time-warp of Union control, all leading to the leak of top players.

Leinster lost Jonathan Sexton last season. They came close to losing Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien this year. Munster number eight stalwart James Coughlan has just announced his two-year move to French PRO Division Two club Pau.

Munster Corporate Ambassador Doug Howlett was quick to share the concerns of competing against the financial momentum towards England and France in an interview with the Irish Independent yesterday.

“There’s more on offer for international players looking to play abroad. All I can tell players from my part of the world is how much I’ve enjoyed it here, and the fact that I’m still here is testament to that,” said Howlett.

“Munster will always be able to attract players. There’s a lot that Munster can offer. It’s Munster’s job to try to help get these guys here in terms of getting funding and that’s our challenge”.

Even Leinster coach Matt O’Connor could not bring himself to laud the merits of the PRO12 over those of The Premiership from his experience there with Leicester Tigers.

“You can only win what you’re in,” he said, earlier in the week.

worry

“Everyone understands the value of the league. That’s what you do day-in, day-out. Yeah I mean it’s a tough competition, we’re not in England so I don’t worry about that too much”.

This is a money game and the power of finance is beginning to take over from the romance of clubs, like Munster and Leinster, working and winning mostly off the endeavours of their homegrown talent.

There is a ready fix available for those too impatient to build from within. Pay them and they will come.


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