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Ewan MacKenna Predicts Very Bleak Future For Irish Provinces - But Others Disagree

Ewan MacKenna Predicts Very Bleak Future For Irish Provinces - But Others Disagree
By Conor Neville
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The bleakest winter in Irish club rugby since the 1990s drags on.

Ulster's thumping victory over Toulouse offered a chink of light but depression descended once more with Munster's home loss to Leicester and Leinster's tournament ending defeat in Toulon.

Only twice since the turn of the millennium have the semi-finals of the European Cup contained no Irish side. Unless Ulster can build on Friday's result, it will surely be three after this year.

Ewan MacKenna - who two months back went to war with the gentle souls intent on mollycoddling the Irish players in the wake of another World Cup quarter-final exit - proclaimed the 'party over' in the Sunday Business Post yesterday, 'and not just for Leinster'.

MacKenna argues that the Irish provincial model is out-of-date and there is no prospect that Leinster and Munster can keep pace with the English and French sides in the coming years.


They are unable to attract high profile foreigners and thus have to rely on home-grown talent. And MacKenna believes that the home-grown talent is overrated.

What it leaves the manager with is a group of largely Irish players we hugely overrate. The World Cup let us in on the limitations of both the type and quality we produce at home, and so too has this Champions Cup.

In the days following Ireland's World Cup loss, MacKenna caused a stir by arguing that rugby hogs far too much coverage in Ireland because the men in positions of power in the media and marketing sectors tend to alumni of posh rugby schools.

Yesterday, he again questioned the true level of support enjoyed by rugby.

For all the coverage we give the sport and the provinces, the fact is that it doesn't mean that much to that many. It's why the French league could sign a five-season television deal worth €74 million a year while the English league signed a four season contract worth €53 million per annum. Yet we contribute a pitiful €1.2 million to the €14 million the Pro12 pulls in.

He closed by asserting that the provinces are essentially 'artificial' entities and thus any 'money generated comes out of selling an event. And losing isn't an event.'

Irish rugby must choose whether they wish to be 'at the forefront of the club game' or whether they want the sole focus to be on the national team's success. We can't have both, MacKenna says.

On Newstalk's Sunday paper review, Gavin Cummiskey questioned some of MacKenna's assertions. He cited the Irish crowds at the World Cup as evidence of the game's broad appeal.


Ewan MacKenna, which he does two or three times a year, has pretty much called for the end of rugby in Ireland. Ewan, great guy, pretty good writer, but some of the stuff he has here is nonsense.

I was at the World Cup and I was in Wembley and I was in the Olympic Stadium. And this wasn't rugby people who'd packed this. This was people who really want to support Irish sport. There was families, there was everything like that. So, it wasn't just an elitist rugby crowd.

He vehemently disagrees that the Irish provinces aren't producing enough skilled players.


He makes a lot interesting points about how it's falling apart, and things are not going well at the moment, but what he said was if you watch the Leinster game against Wasps, 'where Charles Piatau, Christian Wade and Frank Halai showed the sort of ball skills that could only be Leinster's if bought in from abroad'. That just shows you that he has no clue what he is talking about, because if you ever watch at underage now, you see the skill levels in Leinster rugby. They're regenerating themselves year on year.

Read more: Brian O'Driscoll Slams Imports As Reason For Irish Province's Decline

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