Friday, 22 November 2013

Champions Cup

With the Unions and the Clubs starting to clarify their positions this week on the PRL proposals to leave the Heinekin Cup and create a new Champions Cup competition, good time to reflect. Although not a great deal of news in terms of positions, definates or certainty as yet, thought I would put my five pennance worth into the mix.

Looking at this purely from a perspective of "best interests of Wasps" apart from a likely, but not guaranteed, increase in funding, I am struggling to see any other benefits. What really concerns me is we seem to be following as opposed to leading....or for that matter even contributing to the proposal.

Clearly at the top table the "money" clubs are pushing the agenda supported and encouraged by the PRL, Wasps are not one of these. The PRL control the English Premiership and have failed to make it financially viable to some 50% of the participants and indeed it could be argued that those that wipe their backsides financially have achieved this despite the PRL. So what does the PRL do, they look at a tournament that is more attractive, that they don't run, negotiate with a media company to pull the plug on the successful tournament and run it themselves, using the bribe of greater resource for the major players in the current tournament. And when I say major players I mostly mean France, English clubs contribute but are some way off the mark in terms of on the pitch success, that honour of course goes mostly to Ireland and France.

Now I completely agree that the funding structure and the qualification structure need to be reviewed and indeed balanced more in favour of the French and English clubs, however this could be achieved whilst maintaining the existing tournament with all it's impressive history. I also think it should be said that the Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian clubs have added a great deal to the flavour, colour, excitement and interest in the Heinekin Cup not least the Irish Provinces winning the trophy on numerous occasions.

What I want to hear from the PRL are the rugby reasons for this proposal. To date I have heard nothing compelling which would add to what is a very much looked forward too tournament. All the proposal seems to based on is more money, which of course may only be relatively short term. From a Wasps viewpoint if money is the major driving force, then this is likely to continue and simply future decisions to say engage with South African provinces, make further changes with combined French and English clubs in a league structure, could then leave Wasps in a worse position then we are now, that is not at the top table. At at present we get an invite albeit sitting on the little chair in the corner. 

A good example of this albeit a much less radical issue is the A League. Over the the last 4 or 5 seasons the Wasps squad size has declined and there is good evidence that had Wasps pulled out we would have had greater success on the field and also been financially strong despite this activating a 10k PRL fine. We could have operated a smaller squad and most likely had a reduced injury account. Fringe players and indeed Academy players could easily access a match programme and most likely benefit in performance terms as we have recently seen with Jonah Holmes gaining valuable experience  with Leeds. The A League is great IF you have a big playing squad and was of great benefit to Wasps some years ago. The point is that we should be strong and act in our best interests and not simply follow proposals brought to the table by Clubs that are in a financially stronger position.

This recent proposal to break from the Union and start a Club led Champions Cup is the inevitable consequence of that catastrophic decision by the RFU not to centrally contract players back in 1995/6. Again good arguements could be made to say England would have won the World Cup several times by now and English Clubs would be dominating in Europe and most importantly the clubs would be more financially secure should this have taken place. Please remember Wasps are only in existence due to some 34 million having been invested, 2 million loss per season, thanks to the good will of the Club Owners since 1996. A Champions Cup will not improve the position for all, it may do for some. Nigel Wray has made it clear he wants Saracens to be playing BIG games every week. That is what is needed to succeed. There can only ever be so many BIG clubs and outstanding history or not that does not guarantee any club a place at the top level when money is the only criteria.

Wasps should start to lead the debate and act in the "best interests" of the club, whatever that may be. Answers are needed to these questions, what are the likely long term financial benefits, what are the rugby benefits and what are the guarantees on the table. To me the action needed is to stick with the Union even if we are the only one. However Might be surprised by others who quickly follow this lead. There is simply too much at stake to simply tag along.

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