Pro 12 – Stop Whinging

I was interested to hear Former Welsh captain Martyn Williams speak out about the Champions Cup qualification rules. Williams’ gripe was that Cardiff had finished seventh in the Pro12, but lost out to Zebre as these has to be one team from each of the Pro12 countries, irrespective of their final league standing.

I savoured the delicious irony. Williams is on the money when he says the top seven should qualify, irrespective of which nation they’re from. But not many Celts were saying this in the days of the Heineken Cup with its convoluted and loaded qualification rules!

The Celtic nations fought tooth and nail for two years to keep their virtually automatic places, and were only dragged into line when the clubs being discriminated against – the French and the English – finally stood up to their bullying.

The fact is that the Italian clubs weaken the European Champions Cup by their very presence. Every other team must pray that they’ll get the Italians in their pool.

Even after two seasons of the new competition, the Pro12 hasn’t yet embraced the idea that leagues should be genuine meritocracies, where the best teams come out on top, and earn the biggest rewards.

Pro12 organisers should be beating a path to the Swiss door of European Professional Club Rugby, saying that they got it wrong when the Champions Cup was set up, and now want their top seven clubs to qualify by right.




Mike Miles



Exiles to Pro12?

The bottom two places of the Pro12 are currently occupied by the Italian teams Zebre and Benetton Treviso. Treviso hasn’t won a single game in their last 26 attempts. The chances are Zebre will finish 11th this season in the Pro12, and yet that will still entitle them to a place in next year’s Champions Cup as the top-placed Italian team.

But this is not a discussion about the Champions Cup supposedly being for the top European sides. No, that can wait for another day. Except to say that until the Italian sides earn the right for a place in the Champions Cup through their Pro12 listing, they might gain more from playing in the Challenge Cup.

There have been stories circulating in the rugby press that London Scottish and London Welsh could join the Pro12. Both teams currently play in the Championship, though it must be said, neither looks like threatening to make it to this season’s play-offs.
Nevertheless, the supporter catchment area for these clubs is huge, based, as they both are, in south-west London, with the attendant commercial power there to be utilised. There are no Pro12 teams in the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions Cup, so if that competition is serious about making it back to Europe’s top table they need to be playing competitive rugby week in, week out, and not travelling halfway across Europe for what is essentially a training match.
Greater London is an enormous potential market, and with good transport links. For the Welsh regions it’s a couple of hours up the M4, and for the Irish and Scots a 60-minute hop by plane.
Attendances in Wales and Scotland, local derbies apart, continue to be disappointing. The Welsh have never really loved their regions, and the Scottish cities are football-dominated. Edinburgh v London Scottish would be a huge draw, as would Cardiff Blues v London Welsh. Such fixtures would be welcomed by fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
So by adding two London-based teams with a rich Celtic heritage the league will add to its audience significantly, while ushering in the possibility of some of the exiles currently playing in the Aviva Premiership.
Currently the Pro12 is a Celtic league, with a couple of Italian passengers hanging on by the fingertips. The Celtic league needs a boost from somewhere – a bit more Celticness might just provide that.

Mike Miles