The man whose millions kept Cardiff Blues afloat for more than 20 years today calls for the creation of a British & Irish League as a matter of urgency.
Peter Thomas is urging rugby’s new paymasters, CVC Partners, to introduce a 24-team, two-conference competition as the most effective way of transforming the club game into a viable business.
“I really hope it comes off and the sooner it happens, the better,’’ he told The Rugby Paper in response to last week’s prediction from one club chairman that a British & Irish League will be in operation in two years.
“CVC will have a strategy to improve the product, increase revenue and consequently enhance the overall value.
“The way to do that is with a British & Irish League. The public, on both sides of the Bridge, would love to see it. It’s got to be the way forward, something which will be good for everyone concerned.
“We are in full support and all the Welsh regions would welcome it. I would confidently expect at least a 30 per cent increase in attendances for the Welsh regions and it will be good for the English clubs as well.
“The PRO14 gets too many undeserved knocks. One difficulty with a competition involving long distances is that it’s too expensive for supporters to travel to games outside their country.
“Can you imagine the excitement generated by the Welsh teams playing Bath, Gloucester, Bristol and Exeter, all within striking distance in the West Country? I go back to 1998 and the so-called ‘rebel’ season when Cardiff and Swansea played the English clubs and remember the public interest in those games.’’
Thomas dismisses the Welsh Rugby Union’s rejection 21 years ago of an offer from the RFU to include five Welsh teams in the English League in one word: ‘’Disaster.’’
He says that accepting the five places was “the proper rugby decision and the proper commercial decision but the people running the Union at the time didn’t have the nous to make that decision…it cost us dearly”.
He adds: “Rugby is a business and such a passionate one. Although you are tempted to make decisions with your heart, they have to be done with your head.”
The PRO14 is in the process of finalising acceptance of an offer worth almost £120m from CVC for commercial rights similar to the deal the private equity firm agreed with the English Premiership clubs last season estimated at as much as £275m.
Thomas, one of the original club backers at the start of professionalism in 1995, reveals that he attempted to get a British League off the ground before standing down as Blues chairman last year having poured up to £15m into the capital region.
“Four years ago, Richard Holland (Blues chief executive) and I met executives of BT and presented to them exactly what is being proposed now. They were very enthused but the time then wasn’t quite right.
“It’s all about timing and the time seems right now. I’m sure CVC have a strategy in place. There are challenges ahead in respect of the Italian and South African teams in the PRO14 but a British & Irish League will be a very big positive step towards a brighter future.’’
The RFU have rejected a request to play Wales instead of the Barbarians at the end of next season, thereby reaffirming their commitment to the community matches played on the same day.
The Rugby Paper understands that Eddie Jones’ view helped sway the decision. England’s head coach made it clear that the Baa-baas’ fixture offered him more scope for developing fringe players than a so-called Test match against the westerly neighbours.
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