Sunday, April 22, 2007

Alarmist Euro Super League "Breakaway" Worries

This commentary by Gregor Paul in yesterday's New Zealand Herald is scary, like, Dick Cheney doomsday scary. But unlike the V.P.'s fear-mongering, Paul's report looks like it has a likelihood greater than 0.1%. The implications are worrisome for international test match rugby, as well as the viability of the IRB, and the future and direction and control of the game. The points are so alarming it deserves quoting in full:

Fears for NZ rugby as European clubs move to poach stars

New Zealand Herald
April 22, 2007
by Gregor Paul

A rebel breakout by European rugby clubs is threatening to decimate the All Blacks by poaching all their stars and destroying the value of test football.

The Herald on Sunday has learned that leading clubs in England, France and Ireland are in talks with broadcaster Setanta to set up what will effectively be a European version of the Super 14.

If the deal comes off, leading clubs in Europe will become even richer and will be operating outside the auspices of the International Rugby Board.

Clubs such as Toulouse, Wasps, Leicester and Biarritz would have the ability to offer stars such as Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw one million euro (NZ$1.85m) a year and be under no obligation to release them for All Black duty.

Fears are already mounting that unless the clubs can be persuaded to remain aligned with the IRB, the 2011 World Cup, to be held in New Zealand, will be reduced to a sham tournament where none of the best players are made available.

New Zealand has already felt the increasing spending power of the European clubs in recent months with Carl Hayman, Aaron Mauger, Chris Jack and Byron Kelleher all signing to play offshore after the World Cup this year.

Historically, the thrill of wearing the black jersey has helped the New Zealand Rugby Union in its battle to retain players.

But the European super clubs already have the best English and French players under contract as well as a significant number of Scots, Argentinians, Fijians, Samoans and Tongans.

NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew said: "We are watching developments with considerable interest and are hopeful that both parties can find a solution."

The hope for the NZRU and the other unions is that over the next month the clubs can be persuaded to either drop their breakaway plans or, if they do go through with them, to create a window where test football can be played.

Despite these developments, All Black coach Graham Henry is confident that his players will arrive at the World Cup in September focused on the task at hand.

He is also confident that any breakaway competition will be ultimately doomed. "We have seen in the past, with other sports, that when people try to get away from the establishment they have major issues with quality.

"History shows that these breakaways have not worked. The game cannot be split."


(Bold emphasis mine.)

Here's a recent Jonathan Davies commentary about the report about the rumoured Euro Super League breakaway. (There are links in the R.T. archives about Serge Blanco's threats several months ago.)

And...there's that Setanta name again. Just when I thought the IRB's sell-off of Canadian RWC broadcasting rights to Setanta was ruining the development of the sport in Canada, now there are rumours that Setanta itself is looking to bring down the IRB? Does the IRB's left hand know what the right hand is doing? Am I hearing things straight, or is my math just really, really bad?


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