Italian teams Zebre and Treviso are reportedly facing a battle to keep their places in Pro12.
The two sides finished up in two of the three bottom places in the table this year, and according to the Scotsman, certain countries have had enough with Italy’s inability to raise their standard.
Namely, Wales and Scotland are said to be eager to remove the Italian teams from the competition, while the report notes that Ireland’s bid to host the World Cup in 2023 has kept them largely silent.
The report goes on to allege that a Pro12 executive wrote to the Italian Federation lambasting their whole organisation for how little they offer to the Pro12. Their plans for expansion and welcoming of teams from other countries such as the USA are still on track, and while the initial idea was to have two divisions, kicking the Italian sides out of the competition altogether would save the organisers from having to implement such a widespread restructuring of the league.
The battle for Italy to maintain their place at the top table is somewhat similar to the national side’s defence of their spot in the Six Nations. Their slip in the World Rugby rankings has led to calls for promotion and relegation in the tournament, especially from Georgia who have overtaken them in said rankings, but calls for their guaranteed tier one status to be reviewed have been largely overlooked.
What happens now is markedly unclear. The tone of the report suggests that Pro12 chiefs would happily dispense with Treviso and Zebre to make way for Houston and Toronto, but Conor O’Shea’s efforts to prevent that from happening appear to have worked for now.
Heuston are almost certain to come in, however, and the higher-ups on the Pro12 board are unlikely to put up with much more Italian underperformance as firstly, it brings the standard of the competition down, and secondly, they would probably stand to make more in revenue from American and Canadian involvement than Italian.
Make sure to tune into the latest episode of the 16th Man, where we talk to Gordon D’Arcy, discuss the Lions midfield and talk PRO12.