If a week is as they say, a long time in politics, then a month is an eternity in modern day rugby.
Coming towards the end of April it seemed things couldn't be muchÂ rosier in the Irish garden with two sides in the quarter final of the Heineken Cup and two sides leading the way in the Magners League title chase. On top of that Ireland had won the Triple Crown and were deemed unlucky, well by Irish people anyway, not to have won the RBS Six Nations Championship. Oh yes, and there was a school of thought that only the All Blacks stand in our way of the World Cup.
Now we can only look on enviously as two English clubs prepare to do battle to relieve Munster of their Heineken Cup title and the Welsh queue up to knock Leinsterâ00s title ambitions back into the Irish Sea.
And if those events alone werenâ00t enough to shatter our illusions about the strength of our structure in Ireland, the carry on over the future of the Heineken Cup certainly serves to highlight the precarious nature of our position, and that of the Scottish sides, in the general scheme of things.
Put simply, were the French to remain apart from Heineken/Challenge Cup competition, they would survive. Albeit in their own narrow little rugby world, but nevertheless survive they would. So too would the professional clubs ofÂ England because they would either expand their much lauded Premiership, expand their EDF liaison and in time form some type ofÂ mÃ©nage a trois with Wales and France.
And would any of them care a whit if the Irish or Scots were involved ?
And therefore that is why the RUâ00s of I and S are so important. Itâ00s not that either organisation are flawless but then few are.Â But they are the people who act as a buffer between the old and the new order. The respective Unionâ00s represent the â00oldâ00 order. The new order drink water God Bless â00em, wear Armani and sport gel spiked hair. And they talk of what it is to be professional as if they invented the concept.
And when they talk with confidence of whatâ00s best for the game they do of course mean the professional game and in the case of England more specifically the 12 sides that form the Premiership. Thatâ00s roughly 400 paid players plus back-up staff. In total we are probably looking at less than 900 people involved in the professional game at that level. But outside that, there are thousands of adults who play the game and thousands more at underage level and tens of thousands at mini level that have to be catered for. Thatâ00s what the â00old orderâ00 do.
We in Ireland will recall that it wasnâ00t that long ago when certain sections south of Hadrians Wall were bemoaning the fact that there were too many Irish sides in the Heineken Cup. The suggestion was that one Irish side was taking up what should have been an English spot.
There was also around that time questions asked about the validity of Ireland entering â00provincialâ00 sides and not clubs.Â It was the UÂ ofÂ the IRF who fought our case, just as they did along with their Scottish counterparts when the English went off on a solo run over the Six Nations some years back.
Flawless they are not. Ask anyone in the Border region. And it is easy to agree with those, like Serge Blanco, who argue that the international fixture schedule is ridiculous, particularly in light of the squads that Ireland, Wales and England will send away on tour next month.
But when you hear some of the chatter from PRL. When you hear their plans for an expanded Heineken Cup (to include all Premiership sides one presumes) you have to believe that maybe, just maybe, the divil you know...
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