When one thinks of Munster Rugby, more often than not the competition fans associate with the province is the Heineken Cup as opposed to the RaboDirect PRO12. But Munster Chief Executive Garrett Fitzgerald says the league will determine their plans for next season.
Given the fact Munster play the vast majority of games in league action and given the new rules for European qualification, Garrett Fitzgerald believes the focus has to change.
“We probably have too much of an emphasis in Irish rugby on the Heineken and incoming Champions Cup. At the end of the day, that’s six or so matches in the year, we play 22 in the PRO12,” explained the Munster CEO.
“The PRO12 is our domestic league, it’s what you earn your bread and butter from…it’s what pays the bills. We need to broaden our emphasis and get an understanding in Irish rugby that the domestic league from now on is most important and that’s what qualifies you now for Europe.”
The new European competition will see the top seven teams from the PRO12 – with at least one side from each country participating in the league – gain entry to the Champions Cup, a move which Fitzgerald feels will benefit the domestic competition.
“I think it will be a much better PRO12 league as a consequence. You saw the end of the league this year when the two Italian teams were playing for a spot even though they were finishing 11th and 12th.
“The PRO12 determines whether you get into Europe and your position will determine seeding – your historical performance in Europe won’t make any difference.
“It’s going much more like the Champions League model. If you don’t perform then you won’t get rewarded.”
Fitzgerald also knows that fans are crucial to future domestic league campaigns and, as a consequence European qualification and success.
“The last thing I would do is criticise our supporters because they’re fantastic, they’re unique and they understand the game.
“But it’s up to us to show them just how important the PRO12 is going to be from here on in, how important the 22 games are going to be.
“The PRO12 is something that will very much determine the business model and determine the whole season.”
Speaking at the University of Limerick, he was also quick to note that the province had not intentionally set out to recruit a fully homegrown coaching ticket – Brian Walsh and Jerry Flannery have come on board as assistant coach and scrum coach respectively.
“That wasn’t the policy. It was a matter of looking at who was available and who were suitable to do the job and we looked extensively at who was available,” Fitzgerald said of the Anthony Foley-led management team.
“In professional rugby worldwide the number of players, coaches and everyone that’s available is quite small. The whole professional rugby market is a very small market and can’t even been compared to football or some other sports. So that’s how we ended up in that situation.”
He added: “We have a unique situation here…in not only appointing all Irish coaches, we are extremely proud to appoint coaches that have learned their trade within the province. It is a reflection of the level of coaches on offer in Irish rugby.
“With Anthony at the helm we look forward to seeing this group work together in achieving success for Munster Rugby.”
Regarding squad news, the Munster CEO confirmed that the province have completed their signings for the coming season with Brumbies centre Adam Smith, Crusaders out-half/centre Tyler Bleyendaal and Cardiff Blues back rower Robin Copeland all signed up.
Meanwhile, current centre James Downey is to leave the province. The former Northampton Saint won 47 caps for Munster, making his Heineken Cup debut against Racing Metro 92 in October 2012.