McCafferty comments force ERC to respond
The voluble chief executive of Premiership Rugby has issued more threats to pull out of the Heineken Cup, writes GERRY THORNLEY
THE LATEST Anglo-French stand-off with their European counterparts over the future composition of the Heineken Cup has intensified. True to form, Mark McCafferty – the voluble chief executive of Premiership Rugby – has provocatively upped the ante by accusing the ERC of dragging its heels on the issue, much to the dismay and frustration of the tournament’s organisers.
The current accord, agreed in 2007, has two more seasons to run and as with previous agreements, the likelihood is that the brinkmanship will continue for much of the next two years, amid further threats of an Anglo-French breakaway competition.
There’s little doubt though that McCafferty’s complaints reflect a growing angst and envy within English and French club rugby, however misguided, concerning the Irish provinces’ ability to claim five of the last seven Heineken Cups.
Under the terms of the 2007 ERC shareholders’ agreement, which agreed to the current qualification and competition format over a seven-year period until the end of the 2013-14 season, any of the key shareholders who wanted that accord to be renegotiated had to serve notice of their intention to break away from the ’07 agreement by June 1st of this year.
Three of the stakeholders – the Fédération Francaise de Rugby (FFR), the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and Premiership Rugby – duly did so. On foot of this, an ERC board meeting on June 6th initiated the ensuing two-year term of renegotiations by agreeing that the ERC chief executive Derek McGrath and ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux conduct a series of meetings over the summer with the various stakeholders to lay the ground for a workshop meeting on September 18th.
This they have done, so for McCafferty to declare again that “the clubs in England and France have served two years’ notice that we intend to pull out of Europe because there needs to be a level playing field” is nothing new.
“So far, the response from the other countries has been slow, even though we are not sabre-rattling. We have not been locked in talks and there is no meeting about the issue until the end of next month,” added McCafferty, who said he could not understand why the ERC was “dragging its heels”.
The ERC are rarely inclined to become embroiled in an unedifying public spat with McCafferty but these observations drew an ERC spokesperson to comment: “We feel a little bit dismayed at this accusation because there is a process and a timeline and a preparatory sequence agreed at a board meeting on June 6th and the meetings with Derek McGrath and Jean-Pierre Lux are still ongoing. So to say that nothing has been happening and people have been dragging their feet is frustrating to say the least.”
The June 6th board meeting was attended by Peter Wheeler of Premiership Rugby as well as all the other board members.