The bottom two places of the Pro12 are currently occupied by the Italian teams Zebre and Benetton Treviso. Treviso hasn’t won a single game in their last 26 attempts. The chances are Zebre will finish 11th this season in the Pro12, and yet that will still entitle them to a place in next year’s Champions Cup as the top-placed Italian team.
But this is not a discussion about the Champions Cup supposedly being for the top European sides. No, that can wait for another day. Except to say that until the Italian sides earn the right for a place in the Champions Cup through their Pro12 listing, they might gain more from playing in the Challenge Cup.
There have been stories circulating in the rugby press that London Scottish and London Welsh could join the Pro12. Both teams currently play in the Championship, though it must be said, neither looks like threatening to make it to this season’s play-offs.
Nevertheless, the supporter catchment area for these clubs is huge, based, as they both are, in south-west London, with the attendant commercial power there to be utilised. There are no Pro12 teams in the quarter-finals of this year’s Champions Cup, so if that competition is serious about making it back to Europe’s top table they need to be playing competitive rugby week in, week out, and not travelling halfway across Europe for what is essentially a training match.
Greater London is an enormous potential market, and with good transport links. For the Welsh regions it’s a couple of hours up the M4, and for the Irish and Scots a 60-minute hop by plane.
Attendances in Wales and Scotland, local derbies apart, continue to be disappointing. The Welsh have never really loved their regions, and the Scottish cities are football-dominated. Edinburgh v London Scottish would be a huge draw, as would Cardiff Blues v London Welsh. Such fixtures would be welcomed by fans, sponsors and broadcasters.
So by adding two London-based teams with a rich Celtic heritage the league will add to its audience significantly, while ushering in the possibility of some of the exiles currently playing in the Aviva Premiership.
Currently the Pro12 is a Celtic league, with a couple of Italian passengers hanging on by the fingertips. The Celtic league needs a boost from somewhere – a bit more Celticness might just provide that.