Ex-Lions forward suggests it’s ‘time to look at a British League’

Former England lock Martin Bayfield, a 1993 tourist with the British and Irish Lions, has called on the rugby authorities to shake up the club game by organising a British League. The sport in the UK has been blighted by financial crisis this season. The Gallagher Premiership in England saw two of its participants collapse while there is anger in Wales with no regional budgets signed off for next season by the WRU.

That latter situation has resulted in a messy build-up to next week’s round three Guinness Six Nations match, as players in Wales will hold strike talks. In the meantime, Bayfield, who now works as a rugby presenter for BT Sport, believes it is time for the Premiership to open up and consider becoming a British League if the overall club product is to prosper.

“Not sure if it’s a 6’10” thing but I was having a conversation along the same lines as Derwyn Jones,” wrote Bayfield on his Twitter account. “Surely now is the time to look at a British League. The unions can no longer exist in splendid isolation. Time for a proper deep dive into the possibility.”

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Jones, the ex-Wales lock who now runs a players’ agency, had earlier written along the same lines as Bayfield and the British Leagie idea: “With two English teams going under this season and all of the issues surfacing in Welsh Rugby over the past 24 hours surely now’s the time for CVC to demand we re-visit the idea of a British League.

“Having been involved in far too many Welsh rugby re-sets over the past 20 years, I can’t ever remember the players being treated with such a lack of compassion and respect. Without them, there is no game and all who are discussing their futures would do well to remember that.”

Numerous rugby fans made their feelings knowns in the replies to these tweets. Here is a selection of what was said: “Why would the Irish, Scottish and Welsh unions take on the bin fire that is PRL? The URC is thriving (despite the internal Welsh issues) while PRL are falling apart. After PRLs shenanigans in destroying the HEC, I can’t see the unions wanting to do them any favours at all.”

“Regional rugby is the only way to keep the game sustainable and profitable. Uncomfortable but.”

“I disagree. Less is more is a nice idea but impractical. Australia has four teams, previously three – they are twice RWC winners. The game is gone. Pro rugby isn’t working. Why? Eyeballs. Think it’s time to revert to the original model pre-1995.”

“I fear it will make no difference though it would be nice if it was the answer. Pro rugby just depends on basic finances: Is the product good enough to make enough money to sustain the current costs? If not then makes no difference how the leagues are organised.”

“Personally a British and Ireland NFL-style league system I think would be brilliant. Not a true closed shop so always jeopardy but with increased teams, increased local derbies and rivalries etc… bring in a university structure that has a draft system. Just need imagination.”

“I have thought this for some time. Two top-tier divisions across Eng/Ire/Scot/Wales. Strengthen club rugby, keep players local and not heading abroad, keep crowds healthy and hopefully clubs more financially secure.”

“Absolutely it is, but the original PRO12 (or whichever name it was) took on Italian rugby and has been a major factor in their development, they can’t be forgotten – deal done for France’s Top 14 to become 16?! Mustn’t forget those on the journey!”

“The regions work in Ireland as they are franchised by the union. Same in Scotland. Wales is an unworkable hybrid. Either WRU takes it all over or goes back to their old league system. Their current plan helps no one. British league isn’t needed, just sort their house out.”

“Experiment with kick-off times first. 3pm is designed to be convenient for a small number of travelling away fans. Will attendance increase with earlier or later kick-off? Personally I’d love a 10am kick-off. Probably not good for beer sales though.”

“I agree with the idea, when rugby went professional I believe there was a rush to grab some of the pie without looking at the big picture. The club game seems fragmented and unsustainable for some.”

“Not saying I agree but it’s inevitable in some shape, pro game in infancy and developed on the hoof. Time to reflect. Those more successful clubs/regions might say it’s okay as it is but if more clubs struggle/disappear who will you actually play? It’s safeguarding sustainability.”

“Anglo-Welsh is the best idea. Irish and Scottish teams are union owned I believe which would make salary capping them difficult.”

“I’m only 6’3″ but I have been saying this for years. At least with English and Welsh clubs. two leagues of 10 with both properly funded and relegation and promotion of top + playoff between second and ninth. Five Welsh teams, including one from north, 12 from England, three from Scotland. Sorted.”

“I can never understand why this didn’t happen with Wales and England. The cross-border games were huge crowd pullers pre-regions. The best example if this being done before is Welsh football. If Cardiff, Swansea, Newport had played in the Welsh leagues they would have failed.”

“My concern would be one of two scenarios: No Welsh clubs/regions would be in the top tier. If they started in the top tier, would they survive? One Welsh/club region is in the top tier, battling for honours and the WRU finds a way to get all the top Welsh talent into that side.”

“The harsh truth is that rugby union lives beyond its means. I’d rather see a game with most players earning good money in a financially secure club structure. But to do that the very top players’ salaries are going to have to be reduced – pretty dramatically.”

“We need a global salary cap!”

“I’d be up for an Anglo-Welsh league with a beefed-up second division. As a Bath fan I’d love to go to Cardiff vs Bath… plenty of heritage. What you don’t want is Super Rugby where defence is optional and none of the fixtures have any history or gravitas.”

“Why would the URC teams want this, only to dilute the quality? No thanks. Edinburgh are currently ninth in URC but beat Sarries here and should have beaten them at the StoneX. Shows how poor the English Premiership is.”

“Personally, I think an NFL-style British and Irish League would be great. Increased number of teams. More local derbies, increased TV coverage because of more games. A university system that leads to a draft system. Coverage and exposure are key and having 12 top clubs not good.”

“I can see more English clubs going under as benefactors back away. Their clubs suffer from a lack of contact with other nations while Wales desperately needs a competition that brings the crowds back. Makes sense to get this up and running. It’s a turning point for the sport.”

“The clear example is in front of us! The English football league, scrap all ring-fenced competitions and install a UK-wide league. Harmonised season with promotion and relegation from top to bottom. Get international rugby back where it belongs as an occasion, not a career essential.”

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