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"Convoluted" Pro16 may be of no benefit to Irish provinces | Keith Wood

Former Ireland captain Keith Wood has argued that the introduction of a Pro16 with more South Afr...


"Convoluted" Pro16 may be of no benefit to Irish provinces | Keith Wood

Former Ireland captain Keith Wood has argued that the introduction of a Pro16 with more South African clubs involved could ultimately be to the detriment of Irish rugby. 

Once known as the Celtic League comprised of clubs from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, a contingent of four South African clubs will now compete in what has become a vastly different competition.

Alongside representatives from Italy also, the Pro16 is a far cry from what Keith Wood believes would best serve the Irish provinces.

"I was never really comfortable with the idea of the Pro14 and bringing in teams from South Africa," he admitted on Wednesday's OTB AM, reserving some judgement while the logistics surrounding the Pro16 remain uncertain.

"I think having a tournament where teams travel from one hemisphere to another doesn't seem to make any sense to me. The season is incredibly congested as it is and I'm just not comfortable with the idea that this would be the case.

"It was the Celtic League and ever since then it has struggled for its identity. It is very hard to say that this is a reasonable tournament for the Celtic nations."

In recent days, the prospect of the four leading South African clubs - Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Lions - joining the European competition has garnered praise from Leinster's Stuart Lancaster.

Nevertheless, while Lancaster suggested that the increased competition would provide a welcome challenge for Leinster, Wood remains uncertain whether a rising tide will lift all boats.

"South Africa play a particular style of rugby," he stated, "and it very heavy-hitter, forward dominated - big forwards, giant forwards, really, but that's not the only way to play.

"Other teams need to play in another fashion and I don't know if teams are coming up against that regularly whether they could deal with it better, but we certainly can't meet it head on.

"If the only way to deal with it is to bring in players who can deal with it, it is an absolutely self-defeating purpose. We need the Pro14 or Pro16 to be a good building-board for the Irish international team in association with the European Cup.

"For us to go into something that could take away from that is foolhardy."

Pro16 South African RG Snyman of Munster leaves the pitch after picking up an injury during the Guinness PRO14 Round 14 match between Leinster and Munster. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Although Wood conceded that any financial boost which could be wrought from such an expansion should not be disregarded, the former World Player of the Year proposed an alternative plan to the Pro16.

"I think it would fill every ground in the country," he remarked of a domestic league that exclusively featured clubs from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

"It would make sense regionally, it makes sense in terms of the rivalries we have with the English clubs in particular and we have a great base of travelling supporters.

"It also fits in to what the British & Irish Lions would be. I mean, one of the reasons behind the Pro16 from a South African point of view is that it means their players will get a really good battle hardening before the Lions go down in 2021.

"We're making it perfect for them, and I'm not trying to be facetious about it, but [the Pro16] seems like a convoluted set-up and I don't know where it fits for us at all."

Overall, while Wood understands that a financially pragmatic approach may be required in these straitened times for the sport, the prospect of the Pro16 only serves to heighten his sense that rugby is in a "very tough spot."

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England English Premiership IRFU Ireland Keith Wood PRO16 Pro14 Rugby Scotland South Africa Wales