Leinster display great strength-in-depth
Last Friday night, 22 February 2019 Leinster beat Southern Kings by 59 points to 19 on a perfect night for rugby. Noel Reid got the hosts off the mark with a try after six minutes. Ross Byrne converted to make it 7-0 to Leinster. Tries from Bjorn Basson and Sarel Pretorius and one conversion from Bader Pretorius gave Kings a lead of 12-7 after twenty minutes. Further tries from Ed Byrne (2) and Noel Reid had Leinster leading by 24-12 at the break.
When play resumed, Ulrich Beyers dotted down for the Kings. The conversion from Bader Pretorius brought the score to 24-19 in favour of Leinster after 48 minutes. That was to be the last score for the Kings. Leinster went on a rampage with tries from Barry Daly, Andrew Porter, Max Deegan, Paddy Patterson and Rory O’Loughlin. Ross Byrne had an assured performance to convert all. It was an impressive result with the big names absent on international duty.
The truth of the matter is, though, there wasn’t much for the attendance of slightly over 10,000 to shout about. Despite the scoreboard, it was a lacklustre affair with much needed excitement provided by the visiting mini rugby teams from Enniscorthy RFC, New Ross RFC, Old Belvedere RFC and Roscrea RFC. The kids really enjoyed their time at the RDS and knocked great fun out of Leo the Lion.
You would have to question the value the inclusion of the Southern Kings and their compatriots in the Pro 14 from a rugby perspective. The Kings are seventh out of seven teams in Conference B of the competition, having won only two games from sixteen, and the Cheetahs are sixth out of seven in Conference A, having won six from sixteen. It is difficult to see what these teams gain from being in the Pro 14. It is also difficult to see what the Pro 14 teams from the old Pro 12 gain, apart long trips to South Africa each season. Numerous logistical difficulties have been experienced by the European teams on their travels to South Africa. Unlike struggling teams from Europe, there is no geographic or administrative coherence to their inclusion.
The revised competition also throws up some oddities. The Italian, Scottish and South African teams play each other three times to even out the schedule. The South African teams are not permitted to compete in the European Champions Cup, even if they were to qualify on ranking or points.
According to a report in The Irish Times last year the income of the Pro 14 doubled to €20 million following the inclusion of the Kings and Cheetahs. The Irish Independent last year reported that the TV income for next season (2018-19) would be around €29 million. These are extraordinary increases by any measure. The increase for the 2018-19 season is partly in expectation of the expansion of the Pro 14 to include three more South African teams for the 2020-21 season. The competition has benefited greatly from a financial viewpoint, but the continued expansion raises many questions, not least of which is the possible introduction of relegation at some point. It will be interesting to see how any future European relegation candidates react to that.