AIL proposals receive short shrift in Leinster
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.