Treviso's PRO12 exit 'bad for Italian rugby'
February 13, 2014
Franco Smith (left) departed from Treviso earlier this season © Getty Images
Former Treviso coach Franco Smith has warned the Italian team will suffer if their domestic sides are not playing top-level European rugby.
As the battle continues to rage over the future of European rugby, Treviso have already declared their hand on the domestic stage saying they will pull out of the RaboDirect PRO12 next year due to concerns over the uncertainty of the tournament. For Smith, who left Treviso earlier this year after seven seasons at the club, he says the financial burden of playing in the PRO12 also took its toll as the Italians reportedly had to pay £2.5m a year to play in the tournament.
"It's bad for Italian rugby, it's a step down from where they were," Smith told ESPN. "When I started coaching there seven years ago, there was always a dream to be in the Celtic league and to be competitive in Europe. With that dream comes a lot of responsibility. The Celtic league was brilliant on the field for developing players as we got our place on the map and garnered respect but the financial impact on it must have played a role.
"When I got there we had one international and we ended up having 25 or so. That's a big inflation and I'm not sure if that was expected in Italy, not just for Treviso though. That had a huge impact.
"The PRO12 asks a fee for Treviso to play in the tournament. As Treviso are owned privately, they could cope but Aironi showed just how hard it is as they went bust. There's also the uncertainty over Europe and so all of that adds up."
It has been suggested the Italian federation will now form its own eight-team league, though Smith warns the quality will pale in comparison to the competitive nature of the PRO12.
"The way forward for Italian domestic rugby has to be for the teams to be playing in a top-level European competition. A purely Italian league would not be close to those standards. There would be logistical troubles like referees, broadcasting rights and of course attracting players."
On the international stage, Italy are currently without a win in this year's Six Nations but they have improved over the past few seasons - an upwards trend which works alongside the Italian's participation in the PRO12. However, the lack of involvement in a cross-border domestic league could prove to be a fatal blow for the national side, according to Smith.
"The thing that really bothers me is that all the doubt and uncertainty will cause the quality of the international team to drop. The players want to see a future. The basic fact is this: Italy will struggle to create top-class players, if they are not playing in a top-class competition. "
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.