Rugby Union: British in a league of frustrations

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The Independent Online
THE SUGGESTED format for the new British League of two divisions, East and West, of 12 teams each has not been welcomed by everyone. This is not surprising because every suggestion made in rugby these days can be guaranteed to start an argument. But at least we're moving in the right direction and when the World Cup is over next November we can go straight into our new rugby future.

What is proposed is that the East division would be made up of 10 English and two Welsh clubs and there would be four English, two Welsh, four Irish and two Scottish teams in the West division. The top teams of each division would play off at the end of the season to decide the overall champion.

The first objections have come from those likely to be in the West division which would clearly be the inferior of the two. So, why bother to pussyfoot around? Scrap the geography and just call them Divisions One and Two. You can't please everyone when you create a new league and the only yardstick you can use is the form-book.

The 10 top English teams in the Allied Dunbar Premiership at the end of this season should join Cardiff and Swansea in the Division One and the next two should be joined by the two other Welsh clubs plus whichever of their teams the Irish and Scots nominate. There would then be a simple two-up and two-down promotion and relegation system operating between the two.

I would also suggest promotion and relegation between Division Two and the respective national leagues of each of the four home countries. The four top teams from the individual countries would play off for the right to replace the bottom two teams. It is important that whatever format the British League adopts it should be possible for teams to progress from a lowly level to the top. I'm thinking of teams like Worcester, Leeds and Caerphilly who are not quite at the top flight but who have made excellent progress over recent years.

It will take several years to sort itself out but soon you would have a strong and viable league structure that would be capable of raising the playing standards of all four countries. It is possible that, at first, the English clubs would tend to gravitate towards the top. They are far more accustomed to a demanding domestic scene and have built up their strengths accordingly.

If they dominate, so be it. But I believe the incentive for teams to improve will work wonders in the Celtic countries and England won't get it their own way for long.

We still have a few problems to solve in Wales before we know which teams are going to represent us in which division. Cardiff and Swansea are the obvious top choices for several reasons. They took a very brave risk in breaking away from Welsh rugby to play their rebel matches against English clubs and their initiative has paved the way for a British League.

It could have easily gone wrong. Had they not performed so well in the so-called friendlies, not only would they have been left exposed to drastic punishment from their own union but the viability of the proposed league would have been called into question. If the best two teams outside England had proved to be no match for them the entire concept would have been questioned.

Although they had to step up to a standard they hadn't been used to, both teams played very good rugby, took part in some very exciting games and drew the crowds. They showed a glimpse of what a British league could do and, at the very least, they should be given the honour of kicking off in the highest division. I'm sure the English clubs would also want that.

As for Llanelli and Pontypridd, who are the other two teams likely to be nominated, they would benefit from playing in the second division and would have a good chance of promotion in the first year.

As much as British rugby needs the new league - even in England I fancy the Allied Dunbar Premiership is looking lacklustre - I am a little worried about our dealings with the French. We badly need a European competition to add an extra challenge to our season. Unfortunately, the World Cup will take a big chunk out of next season and it is going to be difficult to accommodate a tournament involving the French.

I trust that someone is trying to come up with a solution but with the top players knackered after their World Cup exertions it seems impossible to load any more on them.

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