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Neil Francis: Italian relegation leaves us with a trip to Georgia on all of our minds

Conor O'Shea
Conor O'Shea

By Neil Francis

When I was a nipper, most of the crew I hung around with supported Manchester United and things were peachy until the 1973-74 season when United, under Tommy Docherty, were relegated.

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The school yard would never be the same again because you could not pretend that you were somebody from the Second Division when you scored a goal.

The word 'relegate' comes from the Latin 'legare' - to send. In this case, to send down.

There are many bad words beginning with R, but relegation sends the biggest shiver through a sporting body's metaphorical spine.

The word has had plenty of air time recently - a huge amount of it the product of irrational thought.

In club rugby you see the likes of Ballymena and Blackrock College heading down to lower divisions. Instonians, the outfit that has produced the most Irish internationals, are now a junior club.

The biggest reality bite, though, is the redistribution and reallocation of international tickets.

The newer clubs are demanding bigger allocations commensurate with their positions in the higher divisions. That one really hurts.

Tomorrow, Leicester Tigers, one of the mainstays of English rugby and consistently a bulk supplier to the English national side, travel to Newcastle in a relegation dogfight. Leicester have been dreadful this year.

They have lost 12 of their 18 matches so far this season, have an unthinkable minus 151 points differential and have leaked tries like no other team in the Premiership.

Newcastle are only five points behind them but they have the precious gift of momentum on their side, while Leicester are in freefall.

The Worcester Warriors are sandwiched between them - only two points behind Leicester.

The way the fixtures will fall it is more than conceivable that Leicester will be relegated.

Lying in wait at Kingston Park is one of their own - the redoubtable Dean Richards whose side got to the Premiership play-offs and caused a real stir in the Challenge Cup last season.

What would happen if Leicester were relegated?

How many of their England contingent - George Ford, Manu Tuilagi, Dan Cole, Jonny May and Ben Youngs - would actually stand by their club? What would Eddie Jones say?

Would it run somewhere along the lines that he would not choose players who were plying their trade in the Greene King IPA Championship?

If Newcastle win tomorrow night that would put another nail in Leicester's coffin and that of their admired Irish coach Geordan Murphy.

We understand that Premiership Rugby are having a little meeting this week and in true Brexiteer fashion will organise something so that Leicester will forego the dreaded drop.

The Premiership are pretty adept at making it up as they go along. One of the things they crowed about was that there was relegation in their Championship and it was why there was an argument about meritocracy.

The Italian or Scottish sides couldn't be relegated from the PRO14 and the league was meaningless in terms of how the bottom clubs went through the motions after their aspirations of progression were past the point of mathematical contention.

The loss of Leicester would be too damaging and so vested interests must be protected and the rules changed.

London Irish play Hartpury College in the Greene King Championship at the weekend.

If they win and the powerhouse Ealing Trailfinders don't keep pace then London Irish will win the Championship.

Whether they are promoted is another matter as it means that there could be 13 sides in the Premiership, requiring a bye-week for every club.

This will further congest the Premiership's bloated season and predictably there will be pressure put on the Six Nations or on the Champions Cup schedule. We await the chaos.

In the Six Nations there has been much talk of promotion and relegation too.

Italy, yet again, were poor. They were intermittently competitive but still do not possess the systems, class and depth of their Six Nations compadres.

Some commentators suggest promoting Georgia in place of Italy, coached by Conor O'Shea. This feeble-minded contention that Georgia are ready to compete in the Six Nations just does not stack up.

Italy easily disposed of the Georgians in recent games and if there were a play-off for promotion and relegation you would see the Italians take care of the Georgians.

Georgia play in the second-tier Rugby Europe Championship along with Spain, Romania, Russia, Belgium and Germany.

Apart from people knowing that they have a strong scrum, nobody has the slightest idea of what type of team they are.

The logistics of playing against Georgia just don't bear scrutiny.

There are no direct flights from Dublin to Tbilisi, it is an eight-hour, one-stop destination.

I'm not sure about the delights of downtown Tbilisi but one of the things that the bean counters forget is that rugby is a sociable game and whatever about the merits and strength of Italian rugby, you can't discount the fact that more than 15,000 Irish travelled to Italy to enjoy the delights of Rome.

Financially, what can the Georgians bring to the party? What sponsorship can they bring? What about TV rights?

One season in the Rugby Europe Championship would kill Italian rugby stone dead, one season relegated to the lesser competition would kill Scottish rugby stone dead too.

God forbid we had one of our bad seasons - what would we think then?

There is something so comforting about the status quo

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