IRB against an Anglo-French tournament replacing the Heineken Cup

Chief executive indicates that IRB council would block any breakaway competition

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper: “We don’t think it’s in the interests of the game a competition such as that”. Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper: “We don’t think it’s in the interests of the game a competition such as that”. Photograph: Tom Dulat/Getty Images

 


In one of the more significant statements so far in the ongoing saga about the future of European rugby, the game’s governing body, the International Rugby Board, have stated their clearest opposition yet to the proposed Anglo-French cross-border tournament.

In a development that will assuage fears amongst the Celts and Italians that they might have been left hung out to dry by a new exclusively Anglo-French driven club competition which they have no desire to be a part of, the IRB chief executive Brett Gosper yesterday suggested the board would not be inclined to give such a tournament its approval.

Both of the respective umbrella bodies for the French and English club games, Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby have declared they have ended their negotiations with ERC over a new accord and their intention to break off from the Heineken and Amlin Cups, by instead formulating plans of their own tournament – which the Celts and Italians will be invited to join.

“We don’t think it’s in the interests of the game a competition such as that, no,” Gosper said yesterday. “We don’t believe in an Anglo-French competition in itself. We strongly believe it should be a European competition and that’s what we would be supporting and throwing our weight behind . . . We urge all of those parties to get together and find some common ground because we believe it’s in the interests of the game to do so.”

Initial approval for an Anglo-French competition would have to come from the Rugby Football Union and French Rugby Federation. The former has tread a careful line between their relationship with their Celtic counterparts and loyalty to their clubs. Even if that approval was forthcoming, Gosper’s view indicates the IRB council would intervene, blocking a breakaway tournament.

To date the IRB have kept their distance from the discussions and Gosper is “confident” the warring factions will agree a resolution.

Confusingly, Gosper had earlier told Radio 5 Live that if the RFU and the French Federation were comfortable with the proposed new tournament, then the IRB would be inclined to so as well.

“Before it got to us, the RFU would have to approve their clubs partaking in such a competition, and then the French would have to approve their clubs. If both unions approve it and felt comfortable with it, then the likelihood is that we would approve it. If they are not comfortable with it, then it would be doubtful that we would approve such a competition .”

Such a standpoint would have disappointed the ERC, Celtic and Italian hierarchies.


Delicate balance
The RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie has been endeavouring to strike a delicate balance between the two warring factions while the FFR president Pierre Camou is currently on holidays. He has previously stated his vehement opposition to an Anglo-French breakaway, although the Anglo-French club alliance has lately begun to alter its PR campaign by insisting the Celts and Italians are welcome to participate in their proposed new tournament.

In France, the LNR president Paul Goze told AFP that “negotiations were completed” with the ERC, and added: “As regards the French Federation, I do not see why they would put sticks in the wheels of a competition that would take place between the French, English and countries that wish to participate. There is no major reason why the Federation would oppose this and besides, I do not see how it could oppose.”

However, Gosper’s comments later in the day are, according to IRB sources, much closer to the Board’s view, namely that a pan-European model is eminently preferable to an Anglo-French model. It’s also worth noting that Gosper does not having voting rights on the IRB council.