29 Jan Reggies Corner – The Crisis in Irish Rugby
Since the beginning of professional rugby, a time I remember well, I cannot recall a period when there
was as much talk and concern about the future of Irish rugby.
In the early days of professionalism, there were many problems for Irish teams trying to compete at the
highest level against the best teams in Europe.
There was no doubt that we were behind the times in our approach to fitness and training techniques,
not to mention the skill levels of the players and something had to change. It did. Fitness training changed and came in line with best practice, benchmarked against other nations.
Quality foreign coaches were employed along with the clever importing of the correct overseas players,
all of whom brought a fresh approach to training techniques and new ideas on how the game should be
played. The result, improved skill levels of the players.
This in turn led to a strengthening of the Irish Provinces and a very fast rise to the top, with Irish teams becoming some of the finest and most respected in Europe and the World. If you needed any proof of this just look at a return of 6 European titles across all the provinces over a 20 year period. A very proud record for a nation with a relatively small playing population. This year for the first time in that 20 years, not one Irish province has qualified for the knockout stages.
I fear that it may be some time before that record is improved. Irish provinces have caught up with and
passed out many of the teams in Europe in terms of their training facilities and the science of player
The problem now is far more serious. The loss of our talent. Throughout Ireland with Leinster being to
the forefront, Academy managers are identifying the elite players in our country and working tirelessly
to develop them. Vast amounts of money is invested each year on discovering the next crop of Irish
superstars and each year new players make the breakthrough, Just look at Josh van Der Flier, Gary
Ringrose, Tadgh Furlong, Noel Reid, and Luke McGrath this year for Leinster alone.
It is hugely positive that we are producing players of this caliber, however can we hold onto them?.
What is the point in spending vast amounts of money on player development only to lose them to
foreign teams who reap the benefits.
In the past the threat of players going over seas was the stick that agents and players used to beat the
union and try to improve their contract offers. That threat is now a reality.
Marty Moore, Ian Madigan, JJ Hanratty, Paul O’Connell are among the higher profile names departing these shores but there are others, with new names in the headlines every day.
The reason for all this? Quite simply money!
Players have realized that their careers are shorter now and that they are no more than a commodity to
be employed by clubs for the greatest return. The old mainstays of rugby such as loyalty from club or
player are a thing of the past and money talks. Players make decisions based on what they see as the
best benefit to them, sad but true, and completely understandable in a changing rugby world.
With this in mind the French and the English clubs are clearly in control. It is impossible for the Irish provinces to compete with the levels of financial return being offered by these clubs should they set their sights on an Irish player.
With the power push that came from the English and French clubs the European Cup was completely
reformatted and those two bodies got what they wanted. Increased TV revenue, the moving of
headquarters from Dublin to Switzerland, a clean out of the people who had developed the
competition for the last 20 years and they even changed the name.
All of this was bad news for the Irish Provinces and slowly but surely we are seeing the knock on effects.
So what does it all mean? Well both the IRFU and some journalists are trying to put a spin on things as they currently stand and refute that Irish rugby is in crisis. This is understandable.
However the time for denial is over. In my opinion it is time for the IRFU and the rest of the home
nations governing bodies alongside the Italians, to come together and pool their resources,
voice their concerns and demand some guarantees. There is little point in having a Champions Cup
where the only nations capable of competing on a regular basis are English or French, that’s hardly
The Irish set up is completely reliant on a healthy Champions Cup format.
The most lucrative sponsorship deals will come for the teams that are competing at the highest level
and getting the most T.V. coverage. If you don’t make the knock out stages your value falls. Loss of
revenue means loss of financial power and if you can’t compete with the big boys you simply get left
This needs to be addressed now. There is no point in waiting and hoping it will all sort itself out. A fast
pre-emptive strike is needed. Is there a crisis yet? Probably not, but mark my words if the powers that
be do not act quickly , there will be.