You can’t say that the people running the United Rugby Championship haven’t been active in shoring up commercial revenue.
While there may have been scepticism at the latest rebranding of the Celtic League/Magners League/Guinness Pro12/Guinness Pro14, the addition of the top-tier South African sides for last year’s first edition helped to bring some extra prestige to the competition.
Equally, the marketing team have worked hard in securing sponsorship from what might be termed non-rugby avenues.
Vodacom – the South African version of Vodafone – had been brought on board as Southern Hemisphere sponsors last year and, obviously, there were existing links in that they sponsor one of the competing teams, the Bulls, and the parent company sponsors Ireland and their logo has previously adorned the Australia jersey.
However, few in rugby circles would have been aware of Indian agricultural tyre manufacturer BKT, but they have now become the Northern Hemisphere title sponsors.
India currently sit 85th out of 109 in the world rugby rankings but, you never know, this might help to grow the game in a country of more than a billion people.
At least India has a team though, unlike Qatar, from where another URC partnership has originated. With Qatar Airways becoming the competition’s official airline partner, the company will enter into a similar agreement with the South African sides as they enter the Heineken Champions Cup for the first time in December.
The intentions are noble but talk is cheap, of course, and sponsorship money always speaks loudly
There is a likelihood of pre-season tournaments and/or training camps in the Gulf state in the coming years, though the URC chief executive Martin Anayi said that the notion of having competitive games there was a long way down the road.
With the spotlight on Qatar and its questionable record with regard to human rights, the LGBTQ community and migrant workers, Anayi preferred to focus on the positives that the deal would bring.
“Rugby is new to Doha, to Qatar,” he said, “they’re really interested in the values of rugby, in that team ethos and what they could potentially look at as communicating things that they are interested in doing; the community aspect.
“We’ve delved into it, it’s a good platform to be vocal and we want people to say their opinion. We want to use it in a positive way.”
The intentions are noble but talk is cheap, of course, and sponsorship money always speaks loudly. We will see if rugby can bring about positive change, but it’s a world away from the sport’s amateur origins.
The competition gets underway on Friday, with the Irish sides keen to bounce back after last season saw an all-South African final, with the Stormers beating the Bulls.
Leinster go to Italy to face Zebre for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off while Munster are away to Cardiff on Saturday evening before the derby clash of Ulster and Connacht.
Donegal sports journalist Chris McNulty tweeted a picture of his match programme before Buncrana faced Naomh Columba in the Donegal Intermediate Football Championship quarter-finals last weekend.
Nothing too remarkable in that, given that reporters often inform their followers of the players involved and any late changes that may have taken place.
In Buncrana’s case, though, it would have been easier to list those who had not switched – goalkeeper Harry Doherty was the only player wearing the number that the programme said he would be.
Ben Bradley was listed as number 15, for instance, and wore 14; the man who was supposed to be 14, Stephen Doherty, ended up with 4 on his back.
Seven substitutes were listed and yet there were quite a few players not featured on the page who were part of the matchday panel.
Whether there was a mix-up between the club secretary who submitted the squad to the programme and the management team who picked the team and handed out the jerseys, or if it was a ruse to throw Naomh Columba, it’s something that shouldn’t have happened.
In any case, Naomh Columba won by 11 points, though perhaps Buncrana also suffered from the fact that both teams had jerseys that used liberal amounts of green and gold.
One coach felt that the issue was overblown as “printers and journalists put the pressure on to have a team named by Wednesday” when the selectors have no idea on Wednesday what the team will be, but that misses the point.
As a reporter or a spectator, I don’t really mind if number 6 is full-forward or 29 is playing corner-back, once the programme has the relevant information. It’s not difficult to get right, but like so many things, it doesn’t always happen.
The quest is once again underway to find Ireland’s fittest school as athletes David Gillick and Phil Healy team up with Fyffes.
Last year, north Donegal primary school Scoil Na Croise Naofa in Dunfanaghy fought off stiff competition from the large volume of competitors to take the title.
Originally conceived as a means of introducing children to the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating, the upcoming schedule will see some 7,500 pupils from schools throughout Ireland participate in an interactive fit squad session between now and next March.
Coupled with monthly and spot prize rewards, one successful school will have the distinction of being chosen as ‘Ireland’s Fittest School 2023’, the prize for which will be a visit from the Fit Squad ambassadors Healy and Gillick and €5,000 worth of sports equipment.
Registration for the competition, which runs until 31 March, can now be made online at www.fyffesfitsquad.ie, with the overall winner to be announced in April.