Over the weekend, The Rugby Paper reported an anonymous chairman of a Premiership club has told them “a British League will happen in two years’ time. It will happen because it’s the best outcome for the game in the four home countries and for CVC.”
It appears the increasingly universal involvement of CVC in British and Irish rugby will be the trigger for any potential league.
With the PRO14 in the process of finalising negotiations for the sale of a 27 percent share worth an estimated £90 to £120m to CVC Capital Partners, who agreed a similar deal with the Gallagher Premiership earlier this year for £275m, it is logical to assume they would be interested in uniting these two assets.
It has also been reported that CVC would be interested in investing in the Six Nations, which offers the possibility of greater coherence and clarity between the home nations. Such joined up thinking could also plausibly extend to the Lions, a move that would surely help to preserve and even reinvigorate the sacred nature of the British and Irish Lions.
If the long-term aim for rugby on these isles is to become not simply sustainable but commercially thriving, then an amalgamated British and Irish league offers a unique opportunity. This is true at both a marketing and sporting level.
This opportunity would, according to the unnamed chairman, be most attractive for the Welsh and English clubs. Of England, they said, “not one [Premiership club] is profitable, with the possible exception of Exeter Chiefs.” Indeed, it is thought Premiership clubs make a collective loss of £20m annually.
Nevertheless, Premiership Rugby has since distanced itself from the proposition, and it awaits to be seen whether Premier Rugby view the move as compatible with their interests.
Financial incentives would be even greater in Wales, for the prospect of reigniting old rivalries with English clubs (Bath, Gloucester and Bristol perhaps most notably) surely has the potential to increase gates and revive public interest.
“In Wales,” the chairman told The Rugby Paper, “it will be seen as the only opportunity to be sustainable. Their regions lost between £5.5 and £6 million last year.”
The likeliest format would appear to be two conferences of 11 teams, made up of 12 Premiership clubs, the four Irish provinces and Welsh regions, along with Glasgow and Edinburgh.
A playoff system and relegation and promotion between conferences are also potential additions to this sketched plan.
It is, as of yet, unclear as to whether the Scottish and Irish unions would be on-board with such a plan. It also remains uncertain whether the thoughts of one, perhaps typically presumptuous, English chairman are representative of all those across Britain and Ireland.
Certainly, the IRFU would probably take the most convincing, for the PRO 14 currently works well for them, and has been a platform for European and international success in recent seasons.
Irish clubs and fans have also fostered a unique bond with European club rugby since the game turned professional, and worries exist that such a league could potentially undermine the reputation of the Champions Cup. If any Irish resistance to the proposal was to be overcome however, it seems likely the Scots would also be forced to get involved, almost by default.
Ultimately, the future of club rugby does not look like the present. A move to a united British and Irish league would be a positive and proactive step forward, for embracing and preempting change is surely preferable to being swept blindly along.
Change must, however, be balanced against the possibility of excluding potential growth of the professional game in North Wales, Yorkshire, Cornwall and the Scottish Borders.
Written by Joe Ronan