What if the Premiership was split into four Irish-style provinces?
Another year, another subpar showing from the Premiership in Europe. Is the makeup of the English game hampering hopes of both Champions Cup and International success? What would it look like to split the nation's talent across four professional teams?
After booming success in the 2015/16 Champions Cup that saw English club sides consist five out of ten quarter-finalists and three out of four semi-finalists, the Premiership is represented by just a single side in the re-rebranded Heineken Champions Cup this year.
With reigning domestic champions Saracens finishing top of the pile, they stand as not only the singular side flying St George's Cross in Northern Hemisphere's premier competition, but stand as the only side to survive the pool stages without sampling the sour taste of defeat.
With all four Irish sides in buoyant mood after playoff qualification and the national side's high-flying form in 2018, what would English rugby look like following the system that has seen such success over the Irish Sea with a four-province system?
Ample debate has filled our mid-week TV shows, social media feeds, column inches and podcasts over with reasoning, disagreements and justifications for a poor showing relative to the Premiership sides' spending power and rugby playing population. With player access and finances funnelled into at least four teams, the smattering of foreign stars and the shifting of players across the hypothetical regions with the aim of maximising player game time and development, here's an example of how the sides would look.
Of course, this is both a hypothetical and unlikely scenario that would require drastic actions to come to fruition; the RFU striking oil under Twickenham, for example. When puzzling the above teams, one would assume such concentration of resources would surely mean an all English European dominance near every year, right? No.
The biggest difference between the success of the Irish provinces is an ability to manage their star players minutes - thus reducing player burnout and injuries - and the cold hard fact that, quite simply, they are currently better coached and have proven themselves more capable of pulling together as collective units psychologically on big occasions.
Although with that said, it is undeniable that the prospect of four English provinces would undoubtedly produce further success, the strength of the sides in the graphic above is staggering. But rugby is cyclical and not so long ago it was English rugby coming up smelling of roses in Europe while the flaws of the Pro12 were discussed in reference to holding the top sides back. Hard to remember, right?
So join me and the rest of England's rugby-loving population as we daydream of a super-powered quartet brimming with the nation's top talent. After all, what is sport if not an excuse to dream about the spectacular?