Anglo-French plans revealed for competition including sides from southern hemisphere
Bath owner Bruce Craig warns of legal action if new tournament is blocked
Racing Metro’s president Jacky Lorenzetti: “The ERC is dead. The competition we want to set up goes beyond the European circle. We are creating a global organisation to launch the Club World Cup.” Photograph: Getty Images
Hardly a day goes by without another shot or two across the bows of the ERC, and by extension the French Federation, the Celts and Italians and the International Rugby Board. Yesterday was no exception, with the multi-millionaire owners of Racing Metro and Bath, Jacky Lorenzetti and Bruce Craig, each furthering the war of words and latter issuing veiled threats to the future of Celtic and Italian rugby, and of taking to the courts.
In what is clearly a well-orchestrated campaign, Lorenzetti ratcheted up the plans of the Anglo-French clubs’ axis to press ahead with their proposed Rugby Champions Cup by revealing to French newspaper Le Parisien they are looking to include not only French and English clubs, but sides from New Zealand, South Africa and Australia as well.
“Today, the European Cup is flawed,” began Lorenzetti, repeating the Anglo-French mantra that their demands for more control and power of the tournament have been ignored. “It is organised by the federations. This is not normal. This is a competition for professional clubs, it should be managed by the leagues. With the English, we have asked for more space, a better distribution of roles without, moreover, taking from the Celtic teams (note: the Irish, Scots, Welsh) and the Italians. We have not been heard.
“We’ll play something else,” he added. “The ERC is dead. The competition we want to set up goes beyond the European circle. We are creating a global organisation to launch the Club World Cup. There will be English, French, New Zealand, Australian, South African, teams, and nations who want to join us. We are ecumenical!”
Lorenzetti made his fortune through property group Foncia, which last year was estimated at €245 million by French publication Challenges.When it was pointed out to him they will need the approval of the IRB, he said: “Exactly, that’s why we will not do another European Cup. Moreover, in the Rugby Champions Cup, the word Europe is not there. We do not want to compete with the current competition, and I do not see why the IRB would not agree with us.
“But we are not in a fight! What we want is a fair division of roles. That role of the French Federation is to take care of the French national team. We are not asking to organise the Six Nations! However, in return, everything concerning the clubs must return to the Ligue Nationale,” said Lorenzetti in relation to LNR, the umbrella group for the Top 14 clubs.
As to the possibility of only playing in the Top 14 next season if the IRB does not grant permission to their proposed tournament, the Racing owner said: “I think that in the interest of the clubs, the federations will give their consent to the new competition.”
Nor was he clear how this global event could be incorporated into a calendar which has never been in sync with the two hemispheres. “The difficulty is actually to respect the coherence of the calendar. We are working in this direction.”
Craig weighed in by telling BBC Sport the Celtic and Italian provinces face “financial oblivion” if administrators sought to thwart the Rugby Champions Cup. The Bath owner has been central to setting up an event intended to replace the Heineken Cup, which he claims is “finished”, having travelled to France with the Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty in his own guise as that organisation’s vice-President, to meet with the LNR chief executive Paul Goze.
“If all 38 [European] clubs were actually given the opportunity to come into the Rugby Champions Cup, I believe all 38 would probably agree,” said Craig. “It’s basically the Celtic unions that would stop them from participating. Everyone would prefer that we didn’t go down the legal route. We all want a competition that is a fabulous European competition,” said Craig, even though their proposed new competition is seemingly not European.
He added: “The reality though is if there was to be a blockage there are obvious questions around restraint of trade. This new Champions Cup would generate in the region of €60 to €70 million minimum, which would cut out a big percentage of the English and the French clubs’ losses.”
“At the moment, for the 2014-15 season there is no European rugby. The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn’t happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won’t have those distributions from that competition.”
The Celtic, Italian, French and English unions and federations have all stated their preference for entering mediation talks organised by the ERC, with the Federation stating their opposition to the proposed new Anglo-French driven competition last Sunday, as did the IRB. Unlike in England, this tournament legally requires sanctioning from the French minister of sport.