The competition originally known as the Celtic League will mark its 20th campaign next year. Unless there's a shift in public mood, it will not be the happiest of anniversaries.

The Christmas period inter-pros were desperately low-key affairs, not helped by both Munster and Leinster picking largely second-string teams. 

In his Irish Independent column, Alan Quinlan sounded an alarm, saying a fixture of that history and magnitude shouldn't be reduced to a contest between reserves. 

In Wales, public apathy seems to be scaling new heights - in a country where there was never much love for the competition to begin with. 

Prior to Christmas, Welsh-based rugby journalist Peter Jackson documented that this season's combined average home attendance for the four Welsh regions (20,222) was less than the average home attendance of Cardiff City FC (22, 607). 

Judging by commentary online - admittedly an environment where the most fractious and argumentative sorts gain traction - there would appear to be enormous frustration in Wales that they're having to compete in this thing at all. 

The Irish provinces evidently don't get their competitive juices flowing in the same way that the big bad English clubs do. As the little Stereophonics ditty goes - "You're the one we want! 

They yearn to play the likes of Bath and Gloucester and Harlequins again and resent being made go to 'Conn-aawwwwt' the whole time.  

It's 11 years since Warren Gatland told everyone the Welsh players disliked the Irish players more than any other rugby nation, principally on the grounds that their record against Irish teams at provincial level - and at that time at national level too - was so dismal. 

Whatever about the players, that sentiment seems widespread among fans in Welsh rugby country. 

Former Leinster and Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman knows the Welsh regions, having spent 18 months in charge of the Dragons until December 2018. 

For Jackman, the root cause of the apathy goes back again to 2003 and the establishment of the new franchise teams, entities that have still not been embraced by much of the Welsh rugby public, who remain loyal to the historical clubs of Neath, Swansea, Pontypool, et al. 

Former Dragons coach Bernard Jackman

"Many Welsh rugby supporters don't see going to regional rugby as part of their rugby fix," he says. 

"They'll go now and again but they generally go to watch community rugby on a normal weekend and they'll go and watch Wales in November and in the Six Nations.

"It's very worrying for the people involved in regional rugby about where the long-term growth is going to be. They're around a long-time now and in actual fact, I'd say their attendances are reducing rather than stabilising." 

In Ireland, at least, attendances have broadly held up in 2019-20. For how long though?  

Leinster's season thus far puts one in mind of the old Bill Shankly quote about the best two teams on Merseyside being Liverpool and the Liverpool reserves. 

Their second-string players have administered some frightful beatings in the Pro14 since the autumn.  

The development system - based heavily on the schools game - is so finely honed that they've essentially been asked to donate some of their talented up and comers to other less well off provinces. And still this has barely put a dent in them. 

At the moment, RDS regulars are enjoying watching their established and not-so-established players run riot every Friday night, riddling some poor outclassed opposition from the valleys with bullets long after the bonus point has been secured. 

But the extent of their current dominance is surely worrying. Easily achieved success eventually induces boredom. 

While the indifference and borderline hostility to the Pro 14 isn't at the same pitch as it is in Wales, the competition is still regarded as a secondary concern in Ireland.

Pro14 games are quick, throwaway snacks compared to the big three-course meals of European ties. 

And the Irish rugby fraternity has always been relatively blasé about success in the Celtic League/ Pro14. 

The one year in which the Pro12/14 undoubtedly captured a greater part of the public's attention was in 2015-16 when Pat Lam's Connacht came from nowhere to win it. In addition to the romance of their quest, there was the added factor that the Irish provinces were all knocked out of the Champions Cup in the first round. 

The perfectly designed Leinster machine sauntering to yet another victory does not inspire anything like the same interest or goodwill. 

The competition began life as the Celtic League back in 2001, the inaugural season concluding with Matt Williams' Leinster upending the then media darlings Munster in the Lansdowne Road final.

Interestingly, the season is recorded in the history books as the 2001-02 season despite the fact that the final took place on the strange date of 15 December 2001 and the early months of 2002 saw no action whatsoever.

Since then, they've added a couple of Italian teams and, in their most leftfield move yet, tagged on a couple of South African franchises who were at a loose end. 

Scarlets powered past Munster in the 2017 final

The first final was an all-Irish affair and the provinces have usually dominated the tournament since its inception and throughout its various incarnations. 

However, the Welsh have often been good for plundering a title here and there. Indeed, Ospreys sit second in the roll of honour on four titles - better than Munster's haul. Their most recent victory was in 2012, when the stunned Leinster in the heat of the RDS, a week after Joe Schmidt's side had secured back-to-back Heineken Cup titles. 

For Jackman, these victories, plus the scintillating Scarlets victory in 2017, dispel the theory that the issue is not the makey-up nature of the regions but rather their lack of success. 

"Scarlets had relative success in winning the Pro 14 and yet the crowds the following year weren't great. That was an opportunity to really attract and hold fans. If you look at Connacht winning the Pro 14, that definitely improved their season ticket sales, increased the number of consistent bi-weekly fans. 

"The Scarlets have got a big stadium but it's 25% full for most games. Same with the Ospreys, they're playing in a great stadium in the Liberty but their attendances have been incredibly low.

"So, you can't just say it's because of a lack of success."

Rumours have inevitably surfaced about the future of the tournament, amid talk of a broader re-structure of northern hemisphere rugby.

In November, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners bought a 27% stake in the Pro14. This is the same company which bought an identical sized stake - albeit for a much higher price - in the Gallagher Premiership in late 2018. They are currently eyeing up the Six Nations championship. 

Naturally, these moves have been accompanied by talk of a possible merger of the two leagues, seemingly shorn of their Italian and South African elements (quite where they fail in this new dispensation is still uncertain). 

Saracens and Munster clash in the Champions Cup 

A British and Irish League consisting of 24 teams, with two divisions of 12 is being envisioned, and has been endorsed by, among others, Ospreys chairman Rob Davies.

The current TV deals run out in 2022 and that's when both Davies and another anonymous English chairman, quoted in the Rugby Paper, say the new league will arrive. 

"A British League will happen in two years' time. It will happen because it’s the best outcome for the game in the four home countries and for CVC," the unnamed chairman said. 

"It will appeal to the Welsh regions in particular and the Premiership clubs. Commercially they could be as much as 50 per cent better off."

Jackman says the Welsh regions won't be long pondering the pros and cons of the potential new league.

"They'd jump at it. A (team like) Bath coming across the bridge to play Cardiff Blues would probably sell out. One, you'd have probably 1500 or 2000 Bath fans and secondly, it would be a huge draw in the city of Cardiff for the fans. Maybe, some of it is because it's new. 

"Would it be appetising to the Welsh rugby fan? Yeah, I'd say it would. 

"I've no doubt the crowds would go up in Wales if they were playing English opposition. Is it the right thing to do? I don't know but I would see that as being a much easier market than the one at the moment."

What of Ireland in this potential new arrangement? The quoted English chairman said that if the Irish objected, they would simply press ahead with a British league in their absence. But for Jackman, there would only be one choice in those circumstances. 

"We'd have to (join). We'd have to go with what the Scottish and Welsh do."