Shock as Italian club Treviso say they will quit PRO12 League
The future of the PRO12 was hanging by a thread last night following Benetton Treviso's confirmation that they are withdrawing from the competition at the end of the season.
That is a potentially fatal blow following hard on the heels of the four Welsh regions' on-going bid to join jump ship by joining the English Aviva Premiership, plus the fact that RaboDirect's sponsorship contract ends in June and is not going to be extended.
With all of that going on, the fear is that this latest news from Italy could just be the last straw.
The PRO12 is an amalgam featuring the four Irish provinces, four Welsh regions (Cardiff Blues, New Gwent Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets), a pair of Scottish Districts (Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh) and two Italian franchises (Treviso and Zebre).
Yesterday's announcement was not totally unexpected as the Italians were known to have been unhappy for some time.
It was only last month that the president of the Federation of Italian Rugby, Alfredo Gavazzi, threatened to pull both Treviso and Zebre out of the competition.
Between them those two franchises have gobbled up €11m, roughly one quarter of the FIR's budget.
Gavazzi has said that is not sustainable, adding that the Italians "have not been treated as equals by the other nations making up the league".
"We are not the country cousins; they have to treat us as joint partners," he said last month.
With the regions in Wales currently engaged in open revolt against their own Union after entering into negotiations designed to gain admission to England's Aviva Premiership, the threat of the Welsh moving on will have been another major factor in decision taken by Treviso, who finished seventh last season.
Yesterday they exercised the option to leave at the end of 2013-14. In a statement they said that their decision had been taken "in light of the international situation that further prolongs a decision" regarding the future of cross-border rugby in Europe.
The departing Italians also cited "the absence of certainty about the future forms of organisation, participation and regulations relating to the RaboDirect PRO12 league" as having persuaded them it was time to go."
With Treviso bowing out, it is improbable that Zebre would continue as Italian rugby's sole representatives.
Having replaced Aironi in 2012 – though in reality that amounted to little more than a franchise name-change – Zebre's inaugural season saw them lose all 22 PRO12 matches.
Currently they are in 11th place of the 12 runners. Treviso are 10th.
With FIR president Gavazzi hoping to create an eight-clubs Italian League, Treviso have offered him encouragement by declaring that they are "willing to consider, and possibly participate in any competition and/or challenge that the FIR intends to promote."