Welsh to have big say in new European club competitions
The Six Nations champions and Lions heroes will hold sway in debate over what will replace the Heineken Cup
As the Six Nations champions and principal contributors to the Lions' summer series victory over Australia, the Welsh are bound to be centre stage soon enough in the row over who runs what in European competition. That is to say, the Welsh Rugby Union and their four regions will have to decide whether to join the English and French clubs in any new version of the Heineken Cup.
The Welsh players, caught already in a tug of love between staying at home or accepting big-money offers in France, are obliged to weigh up all the arguments. As Alun Wyn Jones, the captain of the Ospreys who also skippered the Lions to their stunning Test victory in Sydney in June, said with a sigh: "I'm but a mere pawn in the middle of the biggest chess game the sport has seen for a while."
Jones is a bright man – a law graduate from Swansea University – as well as a multi-talented second row who has appeared in all six Lions Tests across the 2013 and 2009 tours. He was in London on Monday for the Lions' reception with David Cameron at 10 Downing Street and back again on Tuesday evening for a dinner at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall. This was the scene for the ambitious Ospreys to do some business networking outside of Wales. They have three Italian sponsors and in the fierce debate over who contributes how much to the European club pot, the Ospreys' chief executive, Andrew Hore, pointed out that Italy's population of 64 million beats that of any of the other Six Nations.
Jones, who is keen to move on from the Lions to his next targets of winning a World Cup and a Heineken Cup – if there is one – suggested a global season, with simultaneous competitions north and south allowing for a possible world club competition, might be the ultimate answer. "I'm not trying to put the cat among the pigeons," he said, "it's just a question that needs to be posed. I shouldn't imagine it would happen in my time but you'd look at the international windows, they'd become a lot more exciting because teams would have the same amount of rest and the same start time. It would make the game a lot more exciting. [But] there's too many unions who'd need to pass it through. It would be red-tape central.
"First and foremost as a player, you want to be playing in the top tier, whether it be your domestic league or European. I think we are lucky [in the RaboDirect Pro 12] that we don't have any relegation. Because of that we potentially play a bit more rugby – you can afford to be looser in your style of play. In the Aviva Premiership there's a lot more structure to the game. The Rabo isn't results based whereas the Aviva is because you need to secure points. There are merits in both, it's just finding the happy medium, which I don't think will ever be attained the way we are. And that brings the question back, irrelevant to European inclusion, to saying that if there was a global season, you'd have another dice to throw."
With half a smile Jones, who turned 28 on Thursday, said: "If you asked the players, we'd all like to play in the summer, have a longer pre-season, play less games, get paid more – but that's never going to happen. You can't blame the business for not asking some of the shareholders the question." More seriously he added: "If I fulfil my potential and the team that I'm in fulfils its potential, sometimes that is enough. Then again, that could be different if I'm tempted to venture elsewhere."
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