Fitzgerald: Rabo days must be top priority

The RaboDirect Pro12 will be approached in a more serious fashion by Munster, and all competing sides from next season, according to Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald: Rabo  days  must be top priority

With European Champions League places to be decided on a merit basis, Fitzgerald hopes to attract greater interest amongst Munster fans in the domestic competition than heretofore.

Heineken Cup specialists Munster will have to take into account the need to make Rabo games more tempting for supporters, said Fitzgerald yesterday.

“We probably have too much of an emphasis in Irish rugby on the Heineken and (now) the Champions Cup. At the end of the day, that’s six matches in the year, we play 22 in the RaboDirect Pro12.

“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.

“You don’t go into Europe unless you perform in the Rabo, that’s the way it is. Before you could go to sleep, get up in the morning and you would still be in Europe.

“It’s now a challenge and is based on meritocracy with slight deviations at the end of it. The point I’m making is that the domestic league has to be your priority all the time.

“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.

“So the Rabo 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.”

Given that Heineken Cup games are almost always sell-out events and Rabo ties can’t compete, Fitzgerald accepts there is going to be a challenge to woo supporters in greater numbers.

“That’s for us to sell to the fans and we need to pay attention to the importance a domestic league should get, that’s a frame of mind we have to get fans to understanding.

“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 Rabo is going to be from here on in, how important the 22 games are going to be.

“It’s a mindset that is perceived within Ireland to a certain extent, for us as an entity, a squad and as management, that’s why mentally we might not have been where we should have been for the home Glasgow game (after beating Toulouse in the Heineken Cup), and consequently that was the one game that dictated where we played our semi-final.

“The Rabo from now on) is something that will very much determine the business model and determine the whole season.”

Yet, Fitzgerald relishes the challenges new European qualification rules bring.

“My immediate thoughts are that European rugby has evolved as you would expect in professional sport. As with anything, whether it is business or professional sport, things evolve.

“If you are in the IT business if you are in banking business, things constantly evolve.

“I think it will be good for rugby overall given the second level competition will be strengthened.

“I think it will be a more difficult tournament to win because you are now working off 20 teams so the standard is obviously going to go up, even though there is a clause (guaranteed participation for one team from each of the four nations) that allows teams that don’t finish in the top six in the Pro12 to go into Europe.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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