Is the Premiership being devalued?

There was an interesting shot of George Ford, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell and one or two other red-rose luminaries huddled together watching the Saracens-Bath game in north London 10 days ago. Interesting because it reminded the television audience how the very grandest Premiership matches are diminished when played at the wrong point in the season. So will the elite club game in England continue to chuck bricks through its own shop window by staging a top fixture on International weekends, or will it take steps to protect its property?

If Farrell was watching from the stand because he was not fit enough to do anything more energetic, the others were there for Six Nations reasons, having just played for their country against Italy. Back in the time of Noah, they would probably have turned out in both games and drunk themselves silly after each, but top-end professionals can barely countenance two outings in six days, let alone two in 24 hours. While football has the midweek option to help it through a congested fixture list, rugby is in a very different place – and as a result, the Premiership suffers.

Mike Miles

Is the six Nations the greatest rugby championship?

In their recent competition launch, the Six Nations bigwigs labelled their showpiece as “rugby’s greatest championship.” A bold call.They claim that it warrants this moniker due to  the fact that it is the oldest rugby union championship, and also the best attended, with an average attendance of 72,000. Tournament chiefs also point to millions of TV viewers with the Championship broadcast in 190 countries making it the “most -watched annual rugby championship on the planet.”

There is another element to their argument – the Six Nations boasts the “best players in world rugby.” Oh dear..they were doing so well….

Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton may have made the World Rugby player of the year shortlist last year but the world’s best players continue to ply their trade in the Southern, not the Northern hemisphere.New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick deservedly took the game’s top honour, and was joined by team-mate Julian Savea and the South Africa duo of Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen in the mix.

The Championship’s unrivaled history,much-loved traditions and its ability to transcend the usual sporting landscape and engage millions across the continent are the Six Nations’ trump cards.Presumably sponsors RBS are the driving force behind this headline-grabbing piece of marketing. The Six Nations is a great Championship…perhaps they should have left it at that.

Mike Miles

Six Nations to Pay Television?

The Six Nations is inviting bids from pay television when it starts talking about the deal that will replace the one it has with the BBC in 2018.There was an admission by the Six nations committee that there was no guarantee the tournament would remain available to all those who own a television set, and that it could go the way of Test cricket and Open golf.

The step is expected and has long been mooted. Three of the four home unions need the extra money with the Celts struggling to fund their professional teams in the Pro12. They already, along with the RFU, have a relationship with Sky which, having lost the rights to the Aviva Premiership, is the Pro 12’s principal broadcaster. Sky and the RFU have been partners for most of the professional era so it would not take much of a jump for the company to secure some,if not all, of the Six Nations rights.

A key question the unions have to ask is whether extra money in 2018 would offset the potential loss of support for the length of the contract because the television audience would be measured in six rather than seven figures.

The Six Nations could ensure at least one match every round was available to free-to-air television. but if rights were shared who would have the first pick? Lets face it, this year’s opening round would have been a scrap for the first match.

Some would like the tournament to move simply because the satellite broadcasters do rugby better than the Beeb-hardly a surprise because they get more practice,week-in,week-out.On the other hand it could kill the goose that is the Six Nations championship,and send the profile of the sport into a tail-spin.No matter how much money might be plonked on the table by any pretenders to the satellite throne, by the time the new deal comes into being it will not compensate for the reduction in exposure.

Mike miles

Rugby needs its own FA Cup

You may think that English rugby fans have very few reasons to envy their football counterparts outside of the astronomical TV rights deals that have fueled the growth of the Premier League- but the weekend before last highlighted one other trump card their rival code possesses.

The FA Cup served up the kind of drama and fairytale scorelines that rugby union can only dream of with League One Bradford City sending Premier League leaders Chelsea packing, Championship side Middlesbrough man-handling Manchester City out of the competition and League Two outfit Cambridge United holding their own against the might of Manchester United.

English rugby has been without a national cup competition since the demise of the Powergen Cup,with the Premiership clubs now restricted to the Anglo-Welsh Cup alongside the Welsh regions. And you would be hard put to find much coverage of that outside the dedicated rugby press!

The demands of the rugby calendar may make the resurrection of such a competition unlikely without a major overhaul of the season but the “magic of the Cup” and the chance for the grassroots clubs to dream-and make some real money-could inject fresh impetus into efforts to grow every aspect of the game

Mike Miles