European rugby is in a transitional period. This has set into motion a major reshuffle of the European league system which aims to provide a greater financial platform and grow the game internationally.
This begs the question, is this expansion motivated by growing the game, or is it designed to line the pockets of the European rugby hierarchy?
The PRO14, formerly the PRO12, and potentially the PRO 15, 16 or 17 in the future, has had the biggest shake-up, with two South African teams; the Cheetahs and Kings signing on, and another two requesting to follow them.
The move has its positives; the South African sides can continue playing top-level rugby and the profile and commercial reach of the European rugby grows.
While those South African teams left Super Rugby, we recently saw teams from Japan and Argentina join the league.
Japan have shown vast improvement on an international level and including them in Super Rugby at the same time as an Argentine team suggests that they have equally earned their place in elite rugby – evidence of which is hard to find.
The allure of the eastern market possibly taking priority over the quality of rugby provided by the South African teams.
Surely an expanding European league has a responsibility to ensure that they improve European rugby, particularly in less competitive nations like Italy and the improving Tier 2 nations like Georgia, Romania and Russia.
It has now been confirmed that a North American club will be next to join the division. While America is undoubtedly a huge financial market, Eastern Europe and Russia is equally vast and untapped.
And although Rugby Union is experiencing a great rise in interest in the States off the back of the Olympic 7’s, they are still a long way off the consistent results in the 15-man game that Georgia have achieved in recent years.
The Georgia Effect
Georgia have consistently been the stand-out nation in the European Rugby Championship for the last decade and the conversation about them joining the 6 Nations has to happen soon or there will be no way for them to continue improving, especially if their club game is not going to be invited to the top table in the near future.
Overlooking these naturally developing nations, in exchange for the immediate big money markets, risks destabilising the future of the European rugby in developing nations.
Raising the question; is world rugby’s new look motivated developing the quality of the sport? Or the developing the quality of the sports financial profile?
Jack Price, Pundit Arena