Anglo-French club alliance means war over future of European rugby
Increasingly easy to envisage a huge schism in the game
While French clubs like Toulon and Clermont are likely to be on board a Heineken Cup next year could well be without the English clubs. Photograph: Inpho.
As a further shot across the bows of the game’s long-established hierarchy, the announcement by the Anglo-French clubs’ axis of the so-called Rugby Champions Cup last Sunday, would seem to mean war. And Mark McCafferty and Paul Goze (the chief executives of PRL and the LNR) and their millionaire club-owing buddies don’t seem to care who will be caught in the crossfire. There’s no telling where it might end.
Rugby, as we have come to know it, has been taken to the brink before but this is clearly the greatest litmus test which the game’s governing body, the International Rugby Board, and its member unions have ever faced. If the English and French club owners break away, and worse still are allowed to break away, the horse will have bolted for ever. Not just the European club game will be ruined, but the European international game too.
Even the global international game will assuredly suffer. The Tri-Nations can look on and content themselves that by retaining control of their club and provincial games from the onset of professionalism, not just their international teams, they have safeguarded themselves from such threats and crises. However, they shouldn’t be too smug.
The Rugby Champions Cup is notable for the absence of one key word, Europe (or European). This in turn gives substance to the grandiose plans for the new competition outlined in The Guardian last week through an unattributed source, or sources, which looked to accommodate from 2015 onwards the six South African sides who have competed in Super Rugby.
Not that the Rugby Champions’ Cup will see the light of day, or at any rate, not with the inclusion of the French clubs. Unlike the English clubs, who only need the approval of an RFU more concerned with hosting the 2015 World Cup, for the French clubs to enter such a competition they would need the approval of the French Federation and the French Minister of Sport.
This is enshrined in French law since 1998, and the FFR, as well as the IRB, have re-iterated their opposition to the Anglo-French clubs’ proposed new competition.
Bernard Lapasset told l’Equipe that the IRB will proceed with the mediation being pursued by the ERC, and without approval from the French government, the French clubs will have no grounds and no referees; not to mention the possibility of players who participate being disqualified from playing for their countries. Hence, in the French rugby media, the Rugby Champions Cup is being regarded as something of a non-event.
Throughout the last 15 months, it is striking to note how coaches and players have been completely excluded, not merely from the negotiations but from any consultation. They dare not, of course, bite the hand that feeds them. Therefore it’s almost worthless seeking out the views of even the intelligent and erudite Conor O’Shea, as RTE did a couple of weeks ago in his guise as a pundit, given his primary employers are Harlequins.