IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset’s comments look a significant development in rift
Well-placed sources maintain Pierre Camou is working assiduously toward saving the ERC-run tournament
Major doubts still surround the future of the Heineken Cup, but recent comments from IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset sound encouraging.
All quiet on the western European front. At least the various parties in the ongoing rift over the future of European club rugby have not been hurling insults at each other of late, which suggests further dialogue is continuing apace behind the scene. Nonetheless, notions that the respective Unions have made a sizeable climbdown in the face of demands and threats by the Anglo-French club alliance also appear wide of the mark.
On foot of the six Unions and Federations from England, France, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy agreeing to tournament format and meritocratic qualification at ERC-appointed mediation talks, by far the most significant development were the comments of IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset at last week’s draw for the 2014 Women’s World Cup. They are particularly significant as they would assuredly have also followed discussions between Lapasset and Pierre Camou, president of the French Federation, a position Lapasset held from 1991 to 2008.
They were also significant as they were the first comments yet by the IRB chairman on this row. Although he was largely conciliatory and diplomatic, Lapasset said PRL and LNR proposals for the so-called Rugby Champions Cup were “not particularly credible”, adding: “Neither one league nor the other should govern the world of rugby. It should be ruled through a balance and respect for each other.” Calling on the parties to “take time to reflect” and “to keep a cool head” Lapasset said he would leave time to all parties to think and talk constructively to allow for a coming together.
Hold centre stage
Given the November Test window will now hold centre stage, and consume time for many involved in running the game at international level, even if the ERC-appointed mediator Graeme Mew finds an agreed time for further mediation talks, it seems we may now be entering a ‘time-out’ in this tortuous process.
In publicly agreeing to the PRL and LNR demands for tournament reform, the Unions have also called the Anglo-French bluff. For if that was all the PRL wanted when they gave two years’ notice to withdraw from the Heineken Cup, they’d be back in the fold now. That they have subsequently shifted the goalposts and demanded that the ERC be disbanded merely confirms that that the PRL, and LNR president Paul Goze, were never looking for reform but were merely making a grab for power.
Camou a key player
Camou remains a key player in this saga, not least as FFR backing is enshrined in French law, and Lapasset’s comments can be interpreted as a signal of Camou’s continued resistance to the Champions Cup and ongoing loyalty to an ERC-run tournament. Well-placed sources maintain he is working assiduously toward saving the latter, and will ensure French participation in the Heineken Cup or an offshoot of that tournament, whether it be a frontline entry from the leading Top 14 clubs or not.