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Loose Pass

30th December 2013 07:35

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Carlin Isles USA IRB Sevens 2013

Carlin Isles: Big loss for USA Rugby

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with contingency plans, America's losses and a few conclusions and disjointed thoughts ahead of an exciting 2014...

The £4 million a year offered to each Welsh region to quit the PRO12 and head for an Anglo-Welsh league is the most significant piece of Euro rugby business to make the headlines since the Heineken Cup was formalised and set in stone.

£16 million is a stonking amount of money, but it goes to show the lengths BT Sport is prepared to go to get something out of the mess it has caused by undermining ERC's tournament. They can't get the holy grail of a pan-European competition so they are going for the next best thing: Anglo-Welsh rivalry on a weekly basis.

It's a serious amount of money, and while it would spell the death knell for the beloved HEC, the Welsh regions would do exceptionally well out of that particular deal. If it meant that the players stayed local, even Warren Gatland and the WRU might have to concede defeat - or claim a pyrrhic victory.

Indifferent news for the Welsh rugby public as it is bound to lead to more infighting. But it is terrible news elsewhere. A four-country league with Irish, French, Scottish and Italian teams is a non-starter as a proposition; it doesn't even sound attractive.

The French only ever really played the Heineken Cup for prestige anyway, clubs there will probably be relieved to have their fixture schedule free of the clutter. Philippe Saint-Andre definitely will. Bye bye cross-channel clashes.

That leaves the Irish, Scots and Italians stranded. BT are apparently in sponsorship talks with the Irish and Scottish teams, meaning that when Sky broadcast the PRO12 matches, BT Sport will be plastered all over half the jerseys. If the Welsh do jump into bed with BT however, the Irish and Scots would be sorely tempted to follow. What other choice would they have? The Pro12 would be left in tatters.

So goodness knows what happens to the Italians, whose clout is fairly nominal in most decision-making processes. It's unlikely that the inimitably selfish BT Sport would give a stuff either. Bye bye Italy too?

And there it might end up. A British and Irish league of probably 20 teams, ten from England, four Irish, four Welsh and two Scottish, all sponsored and broadcasted by BT Sport now looks the most likely outcome of the mess, while the Top 14 cavalcade will continue to roll and Italian franchise rugby disappears (with many a promising Italian heading to France). And no Heineken Cup any more.

BT Sport may get the lion's share of their wishes after all: salami tactics appear to be working where an all-out offensive failed. But the whole fracas has been so damaging to a sport that prides itself culturally on being honest, organised and open. If and when BT Sport get their wishes, they'd better have a PR team that can work miracles to help us forget how their tournament came about.


USA Rugby has been left reeling with the defection of Carlin Isles to the NFL this week.

For those living in a cave, Isles, a former all-American sprinter, was a youtube sensation last year when his blitzing pace took the Gold Coast Sevens in 2012 by storm. The initial youtube clip closed with Nigel Starmer-Smith's breathless exclamation: "I've never seen anyone that quick on a rugby field ever, ever, fifteens or Sevens. I don't think anyone else has either."

Since then there has been fervent hope that USA Rugby would be able to use the popularity of athletes like Isles to lure crossover players from other sports, especially those cut from NFL squads. Backing up the positivity, the Eagles had a good November.

But the move in the opposite direction from Isles, who is now enrolled in the Detroit Lions' practice squad, is a big blow. With Kenyan Daniel Adongo having also defected from rugby to join and play for the Indianapolis Colts and a couple of other less high-profile players also jumping on the NFL bandwagon rather than the rugby one, it seems USA rugby has once again opened its eyes wide for a false dawn.


Finally, 2013 is drawing to a close. It's been a curious year.

It's been a year where the gap between north and south widened palpably, but also a year in which the B&I Lions won a Test series for the first time in 16 years.

European club rugby is in turmoil while Super Rugby purrs on undisturbed, greatly decreasing the chances of the north-south gap closing.

It's been a year of familiar faces in familiar roles. The All Blacks remain the global benchmark internationally. Wales and the Chiefs retained their respective championships. Toulon's monstrous spending finally paid off in the Heineken Cup. Leicester won the Premiership, their tenth national title. Leinster took the Pro12.

We've had new scrum laws, which have only led to more accusations of cheating at scrum-time, just about different things. But other new laws have had an impact and rugby generally seems to be better off for them. Some of this year's games have been 'best-evers'.

Next year the World Cup preparations begin in earnest. All laws are now set in stone so there will be no more changes before the culmination of England 2015. We'll see what emerges from the car crash of BT Sport's interference with all things club rugby. We'll see if the Boks can finally emerge from the All Blacks' shadow, and whether Argentina can recover from their own turbulent year.

All the very best to you all for 2014 - we look forward to seeing you on the sidelines soon!

Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson

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