Jeff Probyn: Clubs face oblivion if RFU take on PRL over Europe

Financial Oblivion are the words used by Bath’s owner Bruce Craig when describing the possible fate facing the RaboDirect Pro12 if they don’t join the new Rugby Champions Cup.

There was also a threat of legal action should the IRB or Unions try to interfere or stop it. So there it is: Capitulate or there will be out and out war between the clubs and Unions.

If it is war, the big question is, would the RFU have the courage to do what’s needed to win?

I have no doubt the IRB will be up for the fight given the possible consequences of ceding power to a few rich club owners, or that if the French Union (FFR) remain strongly against any new competition, that their clubs (LNR) will back down rather than face a possible ban from the FFR – but the RFU are different.

Not since the first days of professionalism when Cliff Brittle was chairman have the RFU stood against PRL (the Premiership clubs) or its predecessors and it would be hard for them to take such a stand now, especially this close to the World Cup – but not impossible.

PRL are using the ‘carrot and stick’ approach with the Union in trying to gain their support. The ‘carrot’ is the promise of a more financially stable Premiership by their running and organising the competition in Europe.

The ‘stick’ is possible legal action and the threat of withholding players from international preparations if the RFU refuse to give their backing for the new competition.

If the RFU were strong enough to face up to this challenge from the clubs they could possibly rescue not just the English but the European game from total meltdown.

It would be incredibly painful and could involve going back to those dark days of turmoil and bankruptcy that were so much a part of those early days of the professional game in England – but let’s imagine this possible scenario…

The RFU vote against the formation of the new competition and the PRL retaliate by not releasing players for international duties stating primacy of contract and launch a restraint of trade action against the Union and the IRB.

The RFU then withdraw from negotiations to pay the clubs for player release and announce that they will form six regional teams to take part in Europe.

The RFU enter negotiations with NCA (National Clubs Association) for players to be brought into the EPS along with a number of elite academy players and, at this point, the RFU announce that from now on they will centrally contract the players for regions as they have done for the England Sevens squad.

This would enable the RFU to save the money currently paid to the PRL clubs for playing English Qualified Players and it would allow the RFU to contract only EQP for each region, should they wish to do so.

To avoid any legal or financial repercussions each step would be brought in as contracts between the RFU and PRL end, while at the same time the RFU would withdraw all non-contracted funding from PRL clubs.

With agreement from government, the RFU announce that the academies are to be removed from the Premiership clubs and transferred to universities and colleges in each of the regions along with all accompanying funding.

The PRL clubs would then form a break-away game, but without the funding from the RFU, those that don’t have rich owners prepared to cover the shortfall would quickly find themselves in financial difficulties.

Then the RFU call a special general meeting to create regional teams and restructure the leagues with a return of limited funding for all levels of the game, which is approved.

The season is restructured so that the leagues feed into a county championship that acts as a number of trials for regional selection and the European games are moved to a time that fits better with the French season to appease LNR.

Players in England would have to make tough choices when it comes to contract renewal.

Do they stay with the PRL clubs with no hope of international honours or take a chance and sign for the RFU regions with a chance to play for England and the extra earning potential that brings?

There would be short term consequences for the national side as all the current squad members are contracted to PRL clubs but that would last only until either contracts were renewed or new players emerged through the ranks, which could be just a single season.

The potential outcome would be a stable league structure in England with the RFU funding just six regional teams instead of the 24 clubs in the Premiership and Championship.

The European competitions would remain under Union control, enabling them to continue the role of developing rugby across the whole of the European rugby community while PRL would have caught the bus to their own Financial Oblivion!


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55 thoughts on “Jeff Probyn: Clubs face oblivion if RFU take on PRL over Europe

  1. Jeff Gage

    Jeff Probyn is correct to draw attention to the risks to the English game of PRL pulling out of Europe. PRL is holding the rest of English rugby, plus Italy & the Celtic nations to ransom. It arrogantly assumes that, by withdrawing, England – even with its huge playing numbers – will have no teams to replace them. Its arrogance is well-placed. With the RFU – since the advent of club leagues and professionalism – having allowed any sensible domestic rep stage to wither away, the replacements in the Heineken Cup would be the likes of Leeds and Cornish Pirates. Pitching such teams against Munster, Leinster & co would be total mismatches.

    PRL’s track record over the years does not justify their current stance over Europe. Look at these examples :-
    1. They quickly appreciated that the absence of a proper domestic rep stage would lead to England test players coming solely from within their ranks. No more Bill Beaumonts or Mike Slemens coming from modest clubs via a rep stage. A typical England XV now comes from just half a dozen Premiership clubs. Yet the 2011 Super 15 winners, Queensland Reds, featured nine clubs on its roster, most well below English Premiership level. The 2011/12 Heineken Cup champions, Leinster, had TEN clubs of varying levels represented. The lack of a meaningful rep stage in England carries great risks. If Sale had been relegated last spring (that was a real possibility for much of last season) and if Newcastle had lost their Championship play-off against Bedford, there would have now been not a single northern club in the top league. Yet there would have been FIVE within an hour of Heathrow. Hardly the way to spread the game in the face of opposition from football and rugby league! Areas such as Yorkshire (with more clubs than Munster) and rugby-mad Cornwall now therefore seriously under-achieve. The latter took over 50,000 followers to Twickenham for the 1991 county final; the best crowds in the Duchy are now the 1,500 who watch Cornish Pirates in their (probably) forlorn attempts to reach the Premiership. Not surprisingly fans of, for example, Redruth do not support the Pirates; their club competes in the same league pyramid. Those 50,000 have vanished into thin air. Another side-effect of having no proper rep stage is that small clubs are obliged to see league status as the be-all and end-all, making long and costly trips which in some cases has led to bankruptcy – think of Orrell, Wakefield and Rugby, all of whom fielded England internationals when a decent rep stage existed. Yet another minus point is that, with no rep stage, talent is missed. Exeter’s recently-retired Richard Baxter played over a decade in the lower leagues befoe the Chiefs won promotion. He then excelled in the Premiership. Could he have had the talent to have been capped? Nobody knows. Are there more Richard Baxters dotted around England? Again no-one knows.
    2. England’s big clubs nearly strangled the Heineken Cup at birth by withdrawing twice in its early years. So now they propose doing the same for the third time in just 19 seasons – just four years after one of their number, Harlequins, tried to cheat its way into a European final.
    3. PRL erects unjustified obstacles in the way of clubs trying to join them. Worcester’s Cecil Duckworth wrote in his autobiography ‘Worcester Warrior’ how established Premiership clubs tried to block his club’s promotion. London Welsh encountered the same two seasons ago, leading to huge adverse publicity for the English game.
    4. Premiership clubs have isolated themselves to the extent that, apart from a few fringe players out on loan, their players have no direct contact at all with players from below the top league. By contrast All Blacks are frequently seen playing with and against part-timers in NZ’s ITM Cup. Those part-timers’ clubs would be well below English Premiership standard, yet the All Blacks don’t suffer; exactly the opposite applies by keeping those test players’ feet on the ground. The structures in Ireland and NZ are ‘seamless’, as was explicitly the RFU’s stated aim when the game went open in 1995. England’s structure now is the exact opposite of seamless; there is a vast chasm between the Premiership and the rest of the English game.

    Jeff’s suggestion of six regional teams to enter Europe has merit. They could be England’s equivalent of NZ’s or South Africa’s Super 15 sides. The risk would be that they might be compared to the ill-fated Divisional teams if chosen only from the top two or three clubs in their area, as happened with the old Divisional Championship. Such lazy selection was natural given that the championship comprised only three fixtures per season. The template should be the way in which the north created composite sides to twice beat the All Blacks by drawing from their county XVs, which in turn were selected from a host of modest clubs such as Beamont’s Fylde, Slemen’s Liverpool, Tony Neary’s Broughton Park, Peter Squires’ Harrogate and many others. It is no coincidence that, with the demise of county senior rugby, the Fyldes and Harrogates of English rugby – like the other 99%+ – are now nowhere to be seen in terms of directly helping the England side, even though many of those clubs are just as good as those who helped Queensland Reds and Leinster to those wins referred to earlier, or who are represented on teams such as Southland and Taranaki who still regularly feature on Lions’ itineraries.

    As Jeff says, if a regional stage was implemented to represent England in Europe, and to avoid a re-run of the old Divisional flop, it would be necessary to ensure that counties were given a decent competitive format. A championship in which, in any given season, several counties play just twice is not a decent format; it is almost designed to have minimal impact. The County Championship currently has a five-week window. For some counties to play just twice is therefore absurd. Under a logical format, and using just a couple more dates, every county could play half-a-dozen fixtures – enough to yield some income, to have a proper identity, to act as focal points of interest, anbition and support, and for players from the most modest clubs to progress. It is crazy that counties are still relied on to identify young talent via their age-group squads, yet have no meaningful and equivalent teams for those youngsters to aspire to. They must be the only youth teams in world rugby – club, state, province or national – to be in that position. After that 1991 county final, John Mason of the Daily Telegraph proposed creating a trophy on the lines of NZ’s long-lived and highly-successful Ranfurly Shield to act as a possible catalyst for county rugby. Mason could see that, unless something imaginative was tried, county rugby was in danger of dying – with potentially serious consequences for areas like Cornwall and Yorkshire. Sadly, he has been proved right. (Why not the TRP Shield?)


  2. declanricede

    Final, final word- and only as you directed the question at me
    “…otherwise how do you explain that the ERC board has representatives from both the unions and leagues?” Well that would be because the RFU decide to give Peter Wheeler a seat at the table to represent the PLR. But that was the RFU’s decision. It give the clubs no rights to control the the representation from the Union.

    No- the ERC is clearly a vehicle of the unions and the latter can decide who fill the slots they have available. The efforts of the PLR and the French clubs to cloud this won’t wash any better than their creative accounting attempts to show themselves hard-done-by in the pay out. It’s the deal they have agreed with the RFU and French union respectively.

  3. Paul

    Oh Dear , is it April 1st already.
    Having watched our club build and finally get into the Premiership over many years does Jeff really think that i would follow a regional side that will probably be based in the midlands (and no the west country does not go that far).

    • declanricede

      Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn’t. I’m guessing, you’d get used to it soon enough- if that’s what’s on offer. But I don’t really care. What Probyn was outlining was the alternative there is to the PLR’s ‘doomsday’ scenario. There IS an alternative and I guess the terror of that realisation is what is prompting the blind rage here among the PLR claque! And the alternative offers the chance for the English Rugby Football Union, (which I believe is still charged with the promotion and protection of the ethos of the sport), to regain control over the direction of it from a small cabal of clubs, who want to set the rules for everyone else. Here are the rules!

      The HC and Amlin are NOT, and were never intended to be, completions between domestic leagues. They are- and were designed to be, competitions between teams representing their national unions. The ERC is the creation of the national unions: it is a vehicle to promote sub-national rugby. In that it has been wildly successful. The national unions decide how and who represent them. That’s the reality- the RFU just chooses to use the placings in the AP as a way of awarding them to clubs. The RFU could easily have another mechanism to make that award.

      Because the PLR and their French equivalents don’t like there share of the cake and want to determine how the other national Unions they are threatening everyone who raises their head with legal or financial ruin. Now no one’s asking you to stop loving your club or to warmly embrace regional teams. But just stop trying to tell those of us who won’t be bullied that we are cheating or unfair in seeking to protect our sport and a great competition. That’s all…

      • Paul

        Firstly i would like to put one thing straight , I am not in anyway suggesting that the Current European competitions should end, far from it having only just started to take part in them we are really enjoying them.
        The thought of the RFU running the domestic game in England however fills me with an over whelming Sense of Horror. This would be the same RFU who set the minimum standards Criteria for promotion , who made the championship a fully professional league without funding it , the same body that took 5 years to find a sponsor for the new league leaving several clubs on the brink of bankruptcy. our club is a members club with a sound financial footing based on a business which runs 365 days a year Jeff’s proposal is to drive our club out of existence because we happen to be in the Premier League and don’t have a rich sugar daddy fortunately for us this would be very unlikely to happen as we receive very little RFU funding so are not reliant on it,

        • Dave Hodgins

          And a fine club you have too, with a good Ulsterman or two to help things along.

          I understand your feelings on the RFU, almost everyone I speak to is bemused by how they have “permitted” rugby to drift along with a mainly hands off approach regarding the pro clubs but just intervening enough to make life difficult.

          That said you need also understand that the provincial/regional based game that exists everywhere outside England & France, stands horrified that the vast majority of clubs both in the PRL & in Top14 exist in a bubble of debt and in many cases are clearly badly run.

          In France Biarritz have been stumped by their sugar-daddy saying actually I’m fed up with unconfined funding, I’m cutting back. Then you have Mad Max at Stade, filling the Stade de France admittedly but largely with €5 tickets. Wray with his madcap schemes having to basically give away tickets to get a crowd for Sarries.

          Wasps buckling under their debts only to be rescued finally.

          You surely must see why the rest of us shudder at the thought of these folk trying to take over the governance of the European game.

          • Paul

            And don’t forget our Munster man.
            I cant argue with you on the fact that certain club owners are totally infuriating, Even our own Chairman at times can be very out spoken , But Jeff is in the opposite corner completely suggesting that the well run clubs and there are some should fall by the wayside to fall into line with the model adopted by the other unions.
            There is nothing wrong with the league structure in the English game we are able to watch a good level of rugby through the national divisions to the top table and although difficult any aspiring club can work through the divisions and gain promotion at all levels.

            Our club survives because we have a successful business so i would be lying if i said money is not a factor additional funding will allow us to continue to develop our stadium.

            I do hope that a sensible solution can be found as it will be a big loss but suggesting that we are just pushed aside and the RFU run a regional comp to me is not one of them.

        • AnotherUlsterStu

          It never ceases to amaze me how many AP club fans have no grasp of the game of Rugby Union or how it is structured.

          The world game is generally happy with the structure, IRB at the top and the national unions and federations overseeing the game in their territories, because they realise that the needs of the game as a whole outweigh the needs of individual clubs or franchises. They also recognise the primacy of the international game, which is what is ultimately at stake here.

      • A Rugby Fan


        I am pretty sure that the World Cup, 6 nations and the Rugby Championship are examples of competitions for representative teams of their respective unions whilst the HC is a club/regional competition otherwise how do you explain that the ERC board has representatives from both the unions and leagues?

        If you want to prioritise country over club/region that is your choice but for many rugby fans it is is their club that comes first. I don’t see representatives from the RFU or the ERC at my local grass roots club on a Sunday morning but I do see players and coaches from the local Premier league club. What is so wrong with wanting a grass roots based model in England? We survived well enough before the HC and will survive without it, the same cannot be said of many of the Pro12 teams, no wonder you are so determined to keep the status quo!

        • AnotherUlsterStu

          “If you want to prioritise country over club/region that is your choice but for many rugby fans it is is their club that comes first.”

          Only in England and maybe France, you’re the ones out of step with the rest of the rugby world.

        • AnotherUlsterStu

          “I don’t see representatives from the RFU or the ERC at my local grass roots club on a Sunday morning but I do see players and coaches from the local Premier league club.”

          Where exactly do you think the referees who referee the games at your local club come from?

          Do you think the AP clubs send players and coaches out of the goodness of their hearts? No, they do it because they get funding from the RFU for community initiatives!

          Before the HC, i.e. before professionalism? There was County and Divisional championships that were an integral part of the structure of the English game and serious stepping stones between club rugby and international rugby.

          • A Rugby Fan

            I know exactly where referees and coaches come from because I am one of them but I have to be a member of a local club to get my training. You see at grass roots the RFU and clubs work together, it is only the power brokers and blazer brigade who are dysfunctional. The fact remains clubs, players and fans are the lifeblood of English rugby and no amount of RFU bodging will change that. During the 6 nations there will still be more fans watching AP and Championship teams than there will be corporate glory hunters at Twickenham. I say vive le difference and stuff your false regions where the sun don’t shine!

      • A Rugby Fan


        The French and Welsh also have league representatives. Sorry to muddy the waters for you. From the ERC web site:

        “ERC has one guiding ambition.
        To lead European club rugby to unparalleled levels of popularity and profile…”

        The ERC is not a vehicle for the unions it is a vehicle for club level rugby.

        Enough said on that subject I think

        Sadly the site doesn’t have accounts on it otherwise we could look at the finances properly.

        • Declanrice

          You don’t think you’re going to get away with that! 🙂 No, no, no…! That statement confirms what I say that the ERC IS the vehicle of the unions- FOR the development of club/ regional rugby. Nice try though…

          • A Rugby Fan

            No idea how you can so misinterpret a simple statement, using your logic, you must think that the players only exist to allow referees to apply the rules! Anyway, I notice that you have not responded to the fact that the Welsh and French clubs also have board members.

            Whilst you are researching, take a look at Jeff’s profile. He is an RFU man through and through and was deeply embroiled in the power politics a few years ago. His plan is an RFU pipe dream based on wishes and assumptions and if you look through it the poor old punters are not a priority. Can you imagine the outcry in Ireland if the IRFU proposed to merge Leinster and Ulster and Connaught and Leinster ? I’d love to see Dubliners trekking 100 miles to Belfast to watch the East Coast Vikings take on Zebre or people from Galway and Cork huddled over a pint reliving their great victory over that famous English region, the Northern Whippets.

            Moreover 6 regions would more than halve the number of professional rugby players in England – you will note good old Jeff had no real place for the Championship sides – 4.of whom have been in the premiership and at least 3 others have clear aspirations to play in the top flight so there are actually close to 20 ‘top tier’ teams in England. It is also worth noting that both Nhants and Harlequins got relegated, sorted themselves out and have come back stronger. No room for that in Jeff’s plan – why have a meritocracy when the boys in blazers want a job instead?

          • Declanrice

            Ah Jeez!!! Well now you’re just being silly. Between the travesty of the your analysis of the ERC’s operation and the the willful misunderstanding of your explanation of the motives of the PLR, I am putting this to bed. You know full well that the places on the board of the ERC are in the gift of the unions- and if you don’t… well- it’s a mystery to me. I don’t think i should have to detail each countries identical situation. There nothing more to say here until there’s a real development. Good luck.

          • A Rugby Fan

            Sorry mate, it’s not my interpretation it’s their mission statement from their website. You stated that the ERC was designed to promote sub-national rugby which is true, but you then went on to define this as teams that are representatives of their unions. For me teams that are representative of their unions are national teams whilst the ERC is promoting club rugby (their words), so, it is logical that if they are promoting club rugby then the clubs have representation on their board, which they do – 16 of the 24 clubs playing in the HC this year have representatives on the board. The French and English clubs made this a condition of their participation, in fact if your memory goes back to the beginning of the HC, the English clubs refused to join until they had some say.

  4. Garry Bailey

    Divisional Rugby don’t make me laugh reminds me of a few years back Leicester played Bath at Welford road = sell out
    a few weeks later the Midlands played the south west same ground and just about the same side and a few Hundred turned up

    • declanrice

      Leinster played Munster in Donnybrook every year for a century with an average attendance of the same scale as you describe- until… the Heineken Cup!

      Admittedly the provinces have more historic resonance in Ireland than regions do in England, currently. But the same identification with their regional franchises could easily grow in England- if it was the way to sporting glory. That will define everything- and the RFU control that potential.

      • club rugby fan

        And in the 70s and 80s most club games at WR were watched by a few hundred even though the club has existed since 1880. Now league games average 20k. Provincial rugby works in Ireland because of that historical resonance. It doesn’t work in Wales and Scotland and it wouldn’t work in France.

        • declanrice

          I don’t know about it not working in either Wales or Scotland- the club game was hardly drawing huge numbers in Wales before the formation of the regions- was it? The issue there (not taking sides) is the implicit decision of the WRFU to favour the national team over the regions/ clubs with resources. And north of the border the sport has been in decline for a decade or more for a variety of social and demographic reasons. The rise of Glasgow attendances in the last few years show that to a large extent support follows success.

          But the point is the English clubs don’t have to worry about being supplanted by regions- once they stop trying to bully the rest of us into abolishing a massively successful competition and trying to force us to play for buttons and uphill on a pitch of their design. But if they chose to go and sulk and refuse to negotiate- well… there is an alternative. It’s really very simple and the RFU is the body which will decide the future of the sport in England. Either they support the clubs and see the game lost to them or they start talking sternly to them.

          • A Rugby Fan


            I believe that all the PRO12 unions have been guaranteed at least the same money that they would get from the ERC, this is because the PRL has negotiated a better deal with BT than the ERC has with Sky.

            Personally I am uncomfortable with any union or league running the competition, it should be an independent body that represents all the clubs/unions/regions, unfortunately in recent years the ERC has failed to do this and at the very least they need shaking up. The ERC has under-valued the product, failed to address the concerns of the French or English clubs in a timely manner and has not really delivered any kind of innovation into the competition for years. It is hardly surprising that they are being challenged. Arrogance is a failing often ascribed to the English but in this case the ERC has, in my opinion, been truly arrogant.

            The harsh reality is that even if the French stay in the HC without the English TV subscriber population SKY will renegotiate their contract with the ERC this will lead to a drop in revenues that neither the Welsh or Scottish unions can afford. No wonder the WRFU are trying to broker a deal and Lewis’ frustration with the ERC is obvious. At the moment the English and French are to a degree underwriting the PRO12 unions. I think that this is appropriate to promote rugby in Italy and via the Amlin to Romania, Georgia etc, but not for the already established nations.

            So ERC:

            Sort out your commercial department to get the true value of the competition turned into cash. Use the extra money to help to develop rugby in emerging nations rather than funding established unions and finally listen, adapt and improve.

            And Jeff, stop using the HC as a way to reignite the pointless friction between clubs and union. The clubs exist, the fans exist and the RFU is not equipped to run regions and I for one am not interested in a jobs for the boys in blazers plan that ignores the realities of the 21st century.

  5. club rugby fan

    This borders on delusional. As do some of posters above. Suggest Jeff and these people steer clear of the Crumbie Terrace at Welford Road, The Shed at Kingsholme, The Rec in Bath, Franklin’s Gardens, The Stoop, Sixways and Sandy Park where proper rugby fans support the game every other week.

    Leicester are a member-owned club, no greed just investment in building the game. They have 16000 members of the junior tigers club, they have junior and mini coaching clinics with players and parents are every home game. They send players and coaches to local clubs during all the school holidays. And they have built the biggest dedicated club rugby stadium in Europe. Really greedy that – terrible for the game isn’t it. The other clubs are doing the same in their own localities.

    Stephen Jones hits the nail on the head in the STimes

    “rugby was never meant to be played between regions and conglomerates and amorphous or crudely formed lumps of a country. It was meant to exist as it did yesterday [Leicester v Northmapton: your town coming to play my town, your community gathering to outshout mine, everyone caring with a burning passion.”

    Typical of the Irish to pontificate about regions above – provincial rugby suits them but no other rugby playing nation in the Northern Hemisphere. We don’t want it, we won’t support it, so stick to your own little interpro championship in the Rab12 and we’ll stick with our clubs.

    • Dave Hodgins

      Dear Anonymous “rugby fan”,

      I’ve a lot of time for Leicester as a club however they are almost unique in England & for every Tigers there is a seat of the pants club like Sarries, nothing but gimmicks, play anywhere because they never had a decent ground, no fan base or anything but the loathing of most other English clubs.

      I understand that along with Tigers there are 3 perhaps 4 other clubs who are not in dire financial shape. There is no doubt as Cueto says that the salary cap is a joke. Some may actually keep within it, others circumnavigate the spirit of it by having a director or sponsor provide a house, another a car, another cover holidays, school fees.

      You muster a large degree of righteous indignation against other nations primarily the old bogey Ireland who irritate you by winning in Europe when England can’t, whilst holding up your own failing system as a traditional wonder.

      You quote Stephen Jones a rugby writer who most serious fans only read to snigger at & above all you come across exactly like your PRL heroes – obnoxious.

      Great to spew forth bile behind your sobriquet – pitiful.

      • A Rugby Fan

        Oh dear Dave, did you get out of bed on the wrong side this morning ? You start so well and then, wallop, nasty personal remarks. #ignorethetroll

        Declan, we are both forgiven 🙂

        • Dave Hodgins

          So , no comment on the issues, just that tired old “troll” defence. I assume you have nothing to say but what McCafferty, Wray & Craig tell you………………..& the odd snippet from Cockers.

      • club rugby fan

        The only righteous indignation is against the suggestion that the Irish type of regional system can be imposed upon the 10s of thousands that turn up and watch professional club rugby in England every week. And well done to the IRFU branches in winning 5 out the last 8 European Cups. That’s very nice icing, thanks, we’d rather just have the cake. I suspect the welsh club fans would as well.

    • Declanrice

      I’m really not interested in a slagging session between countries and their rugby cultures. It’s Jeff Probyn’s scenario that I find compelling. I’m a huge admirer Leicester- as a club. Not so much of their stance on the Heineken Cup or the future of the game.

      I don’t have much respect for Stephen Jones as an analyst of anything. And to declare that there is a “best model” for sub-national teams- either provincial or town club is silly and typical.

      • club rugby fan

        Perhaps Stephen Jones was just making a point to Jeff Probyn rather than a sweeping statement about the best model. The Irish provinces aren’t “crudely formed lumps of a country”, they are historical entities; East Mids Saints & Sinners v West Country Pirates would be…no one would watch, TV wouldn’t be interested. But they would be if it was Leicester v Cardiff in the Anglo-Welsh Premiership.

    • declanrice

      Yeah- provincial rugby is ‘unnatural’! Ever consider what the SH ‘Super’ franchise areas come from? The provincial model is the basis of the SA and NZ game! But what would they know about organising a successful sport- eh…?

      Nobody is trying to abolish the PLR clubs- except , maybe themselves. They remind me of the guy in the movie Blazing Saddles holding the gun to his own head and threatening to shot himself if his foes don’t back down. 🙂

      Please don’t quote Jones on anything if you want to have a sensible discussion- or even a civilised row.

    • Dave Hodgins

      No one is trying to impose a provincial/regional structure on anyone, that is just a nonsensical diversion from the facts. I very much doubt that Mr Probyn has any genuine notion of that structure happening in England.

      PRL want things their way or they will try the age old “it’s my ball & I’m taking it home”, problem is it isn’t their ball. With the way things are shaping up in France, England faces the real possibility of playing with themselves and nobody else next season.

      I would put a small wager on France entering teams in the HC next year & a final in Rome will be just fine, with or without English participation, I hope they see sense, ditch McCafferty & compromise as they have done after a spat each & every time the ERC agreement has come up for renewal over the last 18 years.

      I’d prefer all the countries to be involved but the ERC is not going away & it would appear PRL & BT will end up with the problem of what to do next.

      I don’t expect agreement from many English fans but allowing club owners to run the European game would end in tears, its not as if they’ve managed to run their own businesses well with a very few exceptions.

    • Dave Hodgins

      Compromise now possible, a little birdie tells me BT & SKY are now deciding how they will share the 2014-15 Heineken Cup coverage.

      PRL are now treading very dangerous ground, suggest they drag their asses to the ERC meeting and make the best of a bad thing.

      You’d think English rugby would learn, this is yet another occasion when they have made all manner of threats which they will yet again have to climb down from.

      I understand the eRFU are getting their fingers out with the possibility of a Celtic withdrawal from ERC 2015 a stick to prod them with.

      Still I expect it will all be presented as a jolly compromise between equal partners who were really only playing a big boys game of “rock, paper, scissors”.

      You have to laugh sometimes or your tongue would be sore from tutting.

    • AnotherUlsterStu

      “Typical of the Irish to pontificate about regions above – provincial rugby suits them but no other rugby playing nation in the Northern Hemisphere.”

      We’re not the ones trying to impose our business model on everyone else, That would be PRL.

      Re the academies, I am open to correction, but I am fairly sure that the academies at the pro-clubs are RFU academies that they have placed there, and so in theory would be fully within their rights to take away.


      • A Rugby Fan

        The Academies receive some funding from the RFU but they do not own them. Bath for example have set up a great training facility whilst Leicester has ploughed back its profits into facilities. The academy at Leicester produced 6 of this years Lions – Cole, both Youngs, Manu, Croft and Billy 12T. Not too shabby for a money grabbing offence to world rugby. Ir is now being coached by Geordan Murphy who is passing on the ethos and traditions of the Tigers. And that is what Jeff wants to transfer to some local university.

  6. declanrice

    C’mon now! “Jeff’s plan to destroy clubs with hundred’s of years of tradition and to treat a fan base of hundreds of thousands as so much fodder with no say in the future of their game is typical of the dysfunctional approach all the parties are taking.” You don’t even believe this yourself. the Grand Old Dukes of York here are McCafferty, Wray and company. They’ve indulged in the Russian Roulette and if they pull the trigger on a full chamber, they will bear the responsibility for the outcome.

    The whole move to professionalism was mismanaged by the RFU in allowing the oligarchs too much control. In that process, some great clubs and historic such as Blackheath and Orrell were burned. I’d take no pleasure in seeing clubs with great traditions like Saracens or Bath hurt in this process- but I won’t see the sport of rugby union held ransom either!

  7. A Rugby Fan

    I can’t wait for the empty stadiums the government scratching its head as to why they should intervene to transfer academies from the clubs, the endless legal challenges all leading to a lost generation of England rugby players and the consequential bankrupting of the RFU.

    Too much time and money has been wasted on the fight between the bureaucrats at the RFU and salary paying clubs already and I am afraid that Jeff’s plan is a symptom of just how out if touch some of the protagonists have become. How about they stop treating the problem like a scrum and start looking for common ground and a jointly agreed strategy?

    • declanrice

      What-?? That comment is preposterous! The government doesn’t need to intervene in “transferring academies” from the clubs!

      Leave the club academies there- if you want, but the RFU can start its own and organise its own teams- it is the Rugby Football Union after all. The players will follow the glory- and that will be in the European and World game- not in a circus of rich men’s franchises playing themselves and flogging their mercenaries to death to make the nut!

      If that’s the best defence you can offer on why Jeff Probyn’s plan won’t work; then the PLR’s plans are finished already!

      • A Rugby Fan


        It is a part if Jeff’s scenario that the government intervenes on the academies, perhaps if you had read the article rather than being overly partisan you would have spotted this. The reason is simple – the clubs have invested thousands in the academies and they employ staff and of course the academy teams and they are doing a great job. It would take years for the RFU to rebuild them so Jeff is proposing that they are taken off the clubs lock stock and barrel. Unfortunately for his plan even the RFU is subject to the law so they want government backing to strong arm the plan.

        The bottom line is that France and England have the opportunity to make rugby financially stable from the clubs up whilst the Pro12 nations are taking a top down approach. These differing strategies are bound to clash but the problems can be solved. Unfortunately whilst we have confrontational dunderheads like Derek McGrath in charge of the ERC and the blazers at the RFU playing politics and ‘fans’ getting nationalistic then it is the game that suffers. I am not a big fan of millionaire owners, I prefer ownership by the membership, but I am even less enamoured of bureaucrats who are happy to waste a golden opportunity just to win an argument.

        • Dave Hodgins


          It was the “confrontational dunderheads” bit that did it. McCafferty, the gruesome twosome of Wray & Craig & countless tame journalists, shouting the odds for the last couple of months then finally McGrath raises his head above the parapet for the first time in ages & he is the “confrontational dunderhead”.

          You have no problem with various PRL spokespeople threatening doom & financial ruin.

          Well in fairness to you, at least it doesn’t take a genius to see where your loyalty lies.

          I predict the PRL will be replacing McCafferty shortly after the sabre rattling stops & the compromise is developed as it has been at least 3 times since the HC started.

          Finally your “golden opportunity” is certainly golden for English & possibly French clubs. For others it is the beginning of a true slide to oblivion as power would reside firmly with England & France with all others sidelined. Not hard to see where that would end up, no thank you.

          • A Rugby Fan

            I think your phrase, ‘then finally McGrath raises is head above the parapet’ says it all. These issues have been on the table for 2 years. It has taken sabre rattling, public shouting and threats just to bring the ERC to the table. There’s too much macho posturing by all sides which I think is a sad indictment on all the parties, it just so happens that McGrath sums it all up. And, to expand on my earlier comment, Jeff’s plan to destroy clubs with hundred’s of years of tradition and to treat a fan base of hundreds of thousands as so much fodder with no say in the future of their game is typical of the dysfunctional approach all the parties are taking.

        • declanrice

          Oh- I’ve read the article! It’s just that I don’t take every sentence of what is a obviously a shorthand brief (masterful- but shorthand) literally. There’s no necessity to physically ‘remove’ academies from clubs- and I doubt that Jeff meant that literally. The same result is achieved by the RFU starting its own. Most of the young players will vote with their feet. I have to say that your focus on the narrow ground of that sentence does betray the weakness of the PLR position- both legally and morally.

          Trying to introduce the ‘top-down- bad: bottom-up- good’ principle into this rich mans’ gambit is a sign of desperation.

          • A Rugby Fan

            Well Declan forgive me for reading the article carefully, next time I will simply re-interpret the bits that don’t make sense. And no where do I suggest which is better, bottom up or top down, I am merely pointing out that they will clash at times.

  8. AnotherUlsterStu

    Good Article, and a very sensible suggestion. The problem with PRL’s position is that they demonstrate absolutely zero understanding of how the game is run and organised outside their own borders, and are trying to force their model onto everyone else.

    I hope the RFU follow this path.

  9. Dave Hodgins

    Mr Probyn appears simply to be suggesting an alternative to PRL’s thought process that they are the only game in town. They rather than the rest of Europe are actually the folk who potentially face oblivion, financial & otherwise.

    I suspect that rather than proposing this as a serious option he is merely trying to get McCafferty et al to see that there is more than one way this whole mess may be resolved & that far from holding the whip hand, PRL could actually be the architects of their own downfall.

    When one looks at what is being said outside the well run media offensive of the PRL, it is increasingly hard to see the Anglo-French tournament actually happening. FFR in particular seem up for a fight & if that is the case the IRB will definitely back them as indeed will the other Unions. RFU may be saved from having to jump either way by FFR action.

    It should never be forgotten that every time the ERC agreement is due for negotiation, on every occasion there has been a similar tale of woe. Indeed this is not the first time that PRL have said they will never return to the ERC family. It’s old hat and I firmly believe that a compromise, however difficult it may appear, will happen.

  10. Gareth Griffiths

    Great to hear someone talk some sense in English rugby. McCafferty has been the voice of club owners on a get rich quick scheme for too long.

    The RFU must stand up to the PRL now before the PRL ruin English rugby, and everyone else’s rugby forever for a few million quid.

  11. Tom

    Jeff – music to the ears of any geniuine fan of rugby. What some people don’t seem to realise here is that there is a game called rugby which needs to be funded, not just in the 26 clubs in England and France, but all over both countries. I have been concerned that the RFU could be backed into a corner here but the scenario you outline will bring stability and turn the tables on greedy club owners who don’t care about rugby. They just care about money. The RFU need to move to centralised contracts. All unions do. The disparity where FFR and RFU are possibly the only 2 unions in the world that don’t have central contracts is causing many anomalies including players moving from south to north etc. for one reason – money. A bit of regulation and control is required and the RFU need to step up and take back control of rugby in England. Same applies to FFR. Short term pain for long term gain.

  12. Mark Bishop

    Excellent article Jeff. The roof of the current problems is the privatisation of rugby and its tournaments which cannot be allowed continue. The likes of Nigel Wray and Mark McCafferty have no place in our sport.

  13. UlsterStu

    Glad to hear an Englishman making some sense, go on call greedy b#^%rds bluff and let the English play in a their own special English European competition. Then tell those players forget about being an International, forget about the Six Nations and forget about the Lions…

    • shaunthebrummie

      hopefully it’ll kick start the rise of english nationalism…then we can cut the jocks..taffs and mini jocks adrift…they can then pay for all the freebies they get..close the borders to the undesirables like the drunken jocks..the cheating welsh..the terrorist loving mini jocks…we could remove non english clubs from all english leagues in all sports…we could do it democratically…fifa..uefa..can not override the will of parliament….and it could be the start…nothing paid for by the english would be built in any former unionist country….bring it on…let the union die…pay your way….bring it on

  14. Eugene Mulligan

    Would not work but is a good starting point. The English and French clubs could have the changes they want within the ERC format but I’d rather watch soccer than their rugby championship. Their original wishes are already on the table and should be given but I don’t believe they should control the competition.

  15. declanrice

    Not surprised by the outrage of the previous posters; for the first time, the obvious play by the RFU to reclaim control of the game from the oligarchs is spelled out. It’s not the first time it’s been stated, by any means- but it is the first time that such a prominent and powerful English ‘rugby man’ has made the point in step-by-step detail. Terrorising and logical.

    The shock of recognition that there is life in rugby after the PRL do their sulk is obvious. Without the French- whose Union will hold firm, the PRL Circus would operate for a year or too before BT found a way out and the players would drift back.

    The genuine English rugby fan would quickly get used to regional rugby played for the benefit of the game as a whole and not a small number of clubs. As to the ‘best players’ being with the PRL- don’t worry, a few young and quality English players might even get on to teams now in place of SH journeymen. Quality would rise in the regional game quite quickly.

    And finally- the pretence that this was ever about ‘justice’ for the PRL has been well and truly shown up by the naked power grab by the oligarchs.

  16. Zootopian

    A sport run for the benefit of the game rather than egocentric millionaires? It’ll never catch on!

  17. dave cotton

    yes go on cause more problems jeff probyn, if the erc had listened to the concerns of the clubs two years ago then this issue would not have arisen.

  18. Mike Evans

    What absolute rubbish. Do you think fans would want to watch a regional game with no competitive outcome. Not sure what planet Jeff probyn is on but as a season ticket holder of a rugby premiership team I want to see to best players playing not a load of academy lads having a weekend kick about!

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