English and French bully boys can afford to play the long game
Tactics take European rugby to the brink
The IRB have no option but to hang tough. Next stop the autumn Tests, and then the Six Nations (European rugby’s golden goose, not the costly World Cup), with the clubs dictating more and more when players are released.
As things stand, the Top 14 in France, and to a lesser extent the 12 Premiership clubs in England, are in danger of gobbling up too much of the international market. How much more money and players do they want? Already bloated, the French Top 14 cannot cater for all these countries.
Also typical of this post-capitalist world is that the workers, ie the players, are the most incoherent, or at any rate, the least heard, save for continually stating how brilliant the Heineken Cup has been and how the absence of a European competition would be a terrible loss; without saying any more for fear of annoying their employers. They, along with the supporters, could be the biggest losers if there is no Heineken Cup, or no pan-European tournament. Of all the landscapes out there, that is a distinct possibility. Certainly, it’s still impossible to see a breakaway Anglo-French competition coming into being without the PRL and LNR taking recourse to the courts.
Things have clearly become personalised if Premiership Rugby will not take part in any competition run by ERC (or any organisation based in Dublin). One can only imagine morale among the 20-strong staff in the ERC, and nor can any of this be helpful for them commercially or the provinces, all the more so with around 15 players out of contract in both Munster and Ulster at the end of the season, along with a fair few in Leinster. Compounding this uncertainty is the threat of English clubs soon having Lorenzetti-style muscle.
Perhaps there might yet be a European Cup without the English clubs, if the French can be persuaded to return to the fold. However, the English and French have another tactic up their sleeve. Armed with their BT monies the English clubs, like BT themselves and certainly the French clubs, can afford to play the long game. Admittedly, some Anglo and French clubs can afford to play the long game longer than others – Saracens and Bath, one imagines, can take the hit better than, say, Wasps or London Irish.
But the Celts and the Italians cannot. And the bully boys know that.