Celtic door opens up for Italy
March 26, 2009
Could the lure of a Magners League franchise lure the likes of Azzurri skipper Sergio Parisse back to Italian soil? © Getty Images
Italy's hopes of joining the Magners League have received a boost with Celtic Rugby agreeing in principle to allow two sides to enter the competition from 2010-11.
The Italian Rugby Federation (FIR), who were informed of the decision following yesterday's Celtic Rugby Board meeting, have long been pushing for inclusion in order to expose their leading players to a higher level of competition.
In a statement released today, Celtic Rugby chairman John Hussey said, "Two Italian teams will join the Magners League subject to a number of conditions being met. These conditions, which will be clearly defined, fall under main headings of playing and facility standards, finance and commercial including television.
"This will be a comprehensive process and will take some time. The board therefore decided that participation could not commence before 2010/2011 season."
Italy have struggled to gain a foothold in the Six Nations since joining the northern hemisphere's premier competition in 2000 and have just recorded six victories in 50 Championship matches. This year they suffered their fourth win-less season on their way to the Wooden Spoon.
Italian Super 10 sides Calvisano and Treviso competed in this season's Heineken Cup and both failed to record a victory in the pool stages and the country's representatives have only won 18 European Cup games since the competition began in 1995-96.
It is expected that the FIR will enter two franchises - based in either Milan, Rome or Treviso -that will see the best players in the country divided between them. But concerns exist over potential revenue loss with existing Magners League teams - made up of four sides from Ireland and Wales and two from Scotland - unlikely to tolerate a drop in earnings to accommodate the Italians.
An expanded fixture schedule is likely to see clashes with the autumn internationals and the Six Nations, stripping the clubs of their leading players and putting a strain on their finances as they compete for crowds.
Hussey said, "The Magners League is one of the top professional rugby union tournaments in the world. That quality is demonstrated by the fact that in the deciding Six Nations match between Wales and Ireland no less than 42 out of the 44 players who took part play their rugby in the Magners League.
"Four of this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finalists are Magners League teams. It's essential that any changes to the structure of this great competition maintain the highest standards."
Leinster CEO Mick Dawson welcomed the proposal, he said, "Development is good for the competition and with play-offs coming at the end of next season this will bring the Magners League on again. There is a political will for this to happen and I believe the Welsh clubs are also keen.
"The only caveat would be that the extra revenue goes to the provinces to increase squad numbers to counter the loss of internationals and maintain the competition's credibility," he told the Irish Times. "But more games should mean more revenue."
Munster CEO Garrett Fitzgerald told the newspaper, "I would be supportive of the idea in principal but we are unaware of the final details regarding the television deal and advertising revenue. Also, it may require provinces with heavy commitments to national squads to broaden squad numbers as extra games would probably be played in November and during the Six Nations."