AIL pro­pos­als re­ceive short shrift in Le­in­ster

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GOLF / ATHLETICS / RUGBY - BREN­DAN FAN­NING

LE­IN­STER’S clubs voted al­most unan­i­mously last week to re­ject the IRFU pro­pos­als on a re­struc­tured All Ire­land League. At a spe­cially con­vened meet­ing of the branch’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, the pro­posal, which the union hope to in­tro­duce in sea­son 2019/20, was knocked back on five grounds: 1) That it abol­ishes the con­cept of league po­si­tions be­ing de­cided solely on re­sults; 2) The sus­pen­sion of pro­mo­tion/rel­e­ga­tion; 3) A re­duc­tion in the num­ber of clubs per di­vi­sion; 4) Al­lo­ca­tion of clubs to spe­cific di­vi­sions on the ba­sis of ge­og­ra­phy; 5) In­creas­ing the num­ber of pro­fes­sional play­ers com­pet­ing with am­a­teurs. It was on the last item that Clon­tarf, the only club not to adopt the res­o­lu­tion, ob­jected.

It is un­der­stood the IRFU had asked Le­in­ster to post­pone the meet­ing in lieu of fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion later in the week. Le­in­ster ploughed on how­ever. That com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the IRFU, is­sued on Fri­day, in­cluded a his­tory of their re­search and en­gage­ment with clubs over the last eight years, and a com­mit­ment to con­tinue talk­ing to clubs and the prov­inces over the next fort­night be­fore re­port­ing back by the end of this month.

The IRFU’s ra­tio­nale for propos­ing a new-look league that would have two top di­vi­sions of eight clubs each (a re­duc­tion from the cur­rent 10-team di­vi­sions) in which there would be no limit on the num­ber of con­tracted play­ers is “to strengthen its (club rugby’s) po­si­tion as the third tier of Irish rugby.”

Op­po­si­tion to the plan is wide­spread across Le­in­ster, Mun­ster and Ul­ster, though Le­in­ster are the only prov­ince so far to for­mally re­ject it. Le­in­ster’s ob­jec­tions are based on a de­sire for their clubs to be in a com­pe­ti­tion un­der the con­trol of the branch rather than the union.

“Var­i­ous el­e­ments within the IRFU struc­tures have con­ducted reg­u­lar cam­paigns to al­ter the struc­tures of the All Ire­land League,” ac­cord­ing to a Le­in­ster branch dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment on the sub­ject, orig­i­nally drafted in 2015 but up­dated more re­cently. “This has cur­rently cre­ated a pe­riod of un­cer­tainty for many clubs as they are of the view that they are not re­garded as stake­hold­ers in the All Ire­land League.”

The same doc­u­ment pro­poses aban­don­ing the AIL and run­ning with a Le­in­ster League Premier­ship of 10 clubs, sup­ported by a Le­in­ster League Cham­pi­onship also of 10 clubs. Among other claims, it main­tains that such a com­pe­ti­tion, with more lo­cal der­bies on its fix­ture list “has the po­ten­tial to in­crease a club’s abil­ity to gen­er­ate match-day in­come and pub­lic­ity for the club from lo­cal me­dia press and ra­dio cov­er­age”.

A se­nior Le­in­ster club source claimed a re­turn solely to pro­vin­cial rugby is un­likely to hap­pen. “I don’t think we’ll go back to that but I do think we could well end up with the sta­tus quo (re­gard­ing the AIL),” he said.

If the IRFU end up scrap­ping their pro­posal then its rugby di­rec­tor David Nu­ci­fora will have to find a com­pe­ti­tion for the con­tracted play­ers not in­volved in match-day squads in the Pro 14 and Cham­pi­ons Cup. The union is ex­pected soon to an­nounce a fix­ture list be­tween Irish pro­vin­cial A sides and Welsh re­gions, to fill some of the gap left by the demise of the B&I Cup, run­ning over Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber. Un­less the Scots come on board for sea­son 2019/20, how­ever, the gap in games will re­main an is­sue.

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