Planet Rugby

Loose Pass

20th January 2014 07:58

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Sergio Parisse Italy 2013

Italian rugby: Between a rock and a hard place

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the French TV deal and the Six Nations...

As if the wrangling over Europe's future was not convoluted enough, the French this week gave us a timely reminder that they are more than capable of sustaining themselves with or without Europe.

The Canal+ TV deal signed by the Top 14 is an amount only just short of the WRU's annual turnover. It gives the French club teams absolute hegemony in terms of affording which players they want and when.

The predictable response from England was a vow to raise the salary cap for next season by 10 per cent (which is around 400,000 pounds extra) but that is small change to the French - less than a top player's annual salary in Toulon. The top bankrolling teams there already have salary bills twice the size of England's salary cap and the new TV money will at the very least maintain that trend.

All of which creates a problem within a problem for the European rugby future. The Heineken Cup is already practically a three-country tournament, with Wales and Scotland having provided only three quarter-finalists between them in the past decade. The rest have all been filled by Irish, French and English clubs.

Welsh players are leaving for the minted pastures across the channel more and more, with Irish players following. At some point the Irish provinces will become too eviscerated to maintain their phenomenal standards. You can argue about revenue splitting all you want, but the stronger French teams get and the more money they get, the less valuable the Heineken Cup becomes as well.

The financial model agreed upon for the potential new European competition exacerbates this problem. Splitting the money equally between the three leagues means that English and French teams virtually double their income from Europe, while the Welsh, Irish and Scottish barely get a 10 per cent raise.

Even more money in England and France, even more player exits from the PRO12, and Europe becomes even more an Anglo-French affair.

The initial argument put forward by the English and French clubs was that the PRO12 unions were taking more out of the Heineken Cup than they put in. But with so much financial muscle now on the side of the French especially, the PRO12 unions and their regions will barely have a chance of putting in anyway, regardless of what they might or might not take out.

France's new TV deal is fantastic for them and nobody can deny that the Top 14 is the most colourful and vibrant domestic league going. But in the bigger picture it only flaws the balances in Europe further. Another twist in a sorry tale.


Spare a thought for Italy too. As a result of their PRO12 entry requirements, the Italian union pays three million pounds a year into the tournament pot. They must be viewing that money now as having been a phenomenal waste.

Their teams have not got much better, the best Italian players also play mostly in France and now the PRO12 is being further weakened.

There has been much talk among the Azzurri administration of withdrawing from trans-border competition altogether and setting up an eight-team domestic competition, which will be great for the locals but will also surely see the best young players snapped up by bigger teams in bigger leagues.

If it struggles, the lack of a viable domestic competition would also weaken Italy's position as a member of the Six Nations.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, Italian rugby could end up being the biggest loser of all from the Euro-mess.


All this goes on, but lest we forget, we are only two weeks out from the start of the Six Nations. Some fascinating stats popped across our desks this week: Italy's is the most experienced squad named, with an average of 35.13 caps per man. The Welsh are narrowly behind on 34.16, while England's squad is the greenest at an average of just 13.5 caps per man.

That pattern repeats itself for age, with Italy 27.17 years old and England 24.89.

The Welsh are the heavyweights, at a scale-busting 105.35kg per man, while the French are the only squad lighter than 100kg per man at 99.06. But in the forwards, England have all the beef at 112.44kg per piano-shifter.

In the backs is where Wales have an extraordinary advantage at 96.16kg per runner, a full 4kg per man heavier than any of the others and 8kg heavier than the Italians. The Welsh backs are also 4cm per man taller than the others and 2cm per man taller through the squad.

The average Six Nations player is around 1m86 tall and 102kg. Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes. As long as they are big ones.

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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