Unified response from Celts and Italy
Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian unions opposed to new Rugby Champions Cup
Saracens owner Nigel Wray
In response to threats of “financial oblivion” by the Bath owner Bruce Craig if they do not join the Anglo-French clubs’ proposed new tournament, and of legal action if the proposed Rugby Champions Cup is blocked, the Celtic unions and Italian Federations yesterday spoke as one.
In almost identically worded statements, the IRFU, the WRU, the SRU and the FIR said they would not be joining any competitions which did not have the full approval of the International Rugby Board and the relevant rugby unions, and re-iterated their commitment to a pan-European competition.
This unified response is perhaps most significant in Wales, where the English campaign had blatantly sought to drive a wedge between the Celts.
Having expressed his view last week that the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons should be in the Aviva Premiership, Saracens chairman Nigel Wray urged them to join the English and French clubs in breaking away from Heineken Cup organisers ERC and forming a new European tournament.
“My message to the Welsh teams is simple – ‘Join the competition’. At the end of the day, you have to have guts,” he added. “They would be a hell of a lot better off than they are now.”
Echoing Irish, Scottish and Italian commitment to a pan-European tournament and working with “our colleagues across Europe”, the WRU said it “will not sanction any of its clubs or Regions participating in future tournaments which do not have the full approval of the IRB and the WRU.”
However, there is no doubt that some rebels within the Welsh region would prefer to accept Wray’s offer, all the more so as the general acceptance within the regions will equate to a shortfall of about €1.5 million per year.
With the Scarlets and the Blues heavily in debt, this could equate to financial meltdown.
However, in order to join the Aviva Premiership, it is understood that akin to all the other participants, the Welsh regions would have to give three years’ notice on leaving the Rabo Pro12.
Notable in their silence throughout all of this are the RFU, whose priority is maintaining a good relationship with their clubs in the build-up to hosting the 2015 World Cup, save for one non-committal statement a couple of weeks back about monitoring the situation and encouraging dialogue.
In what is fast resembling a high stakes game of poker, the IRFU statement expressed their wish “to clarify that its clubs (provinces) will not be participating in future tournaments which do not have the full approval of the International Rugby Board (IRB) or the relevant National Rugby Unions.”