RFU digs heels in over Heineken Cup

The Heineken Cup’s future was still in jeopardy on Friday after a proposal from both the French League’s governing body (LNR) and Premier Rugby Ltd (PRL) was rejected by the RFU.

The French clubs are currently boycotting next season’s tournament after what they saw as an about-turn by the RFU over the signing of a contract for the future of the competition, ceding voting and revenue share rights to the English clubs, as the French Federation (FFR) had ceded to the LNR.

But the RFU has not only refused a new proposal from the LNR on revenue and vote-sharing with PRL, it has also criticised the LNR for interfering with the negotiation process between the RFU and PRL.

RFU chairman Martyn Thomas claimed it was “wholly inappropriate” for them to want an involvement in talks between Twickenham and Premier Rugby.

Thomas said: “Our agreement with PRL (Premier Rugby Ltd) still has two years to run, and under that agreement they have committed to participation in ERC competitions.

“We have been in negotiation with PRL for some months on a new, comprehensive long-term package for professional rugby and have reached heads of agreement stage. It is wholly inappropriate for LNR to be seeking a voice in these negotiations.

“We wait to hear from LNR if they are going to participate in next year’s ERC competitions.

“If they do not compete, we are looking to the FFR (Federation Francaise de Rugby) to nominate other French teams to participate.”

Thomas added that a “very constructive meeting” took place today between himself, RFU chief executive Francis Baron, RFU International Rugby Board representatives Bill Beaumont and Jonathan Dance, French Federation president Bernard Lapasset and vice-president Pierre Camou.

Less constructive has been the exchange between the RFU and PRL, after PRL revealed that the Twickenham suits had rejected their latest Heineken Cup proposal

“Premier Rugby is disappointed that the RFU Management Board has today chosen to reject a proposal which would have secured European Rugby Cup (ERC) competitions for next season and beyond,” read a PRL statement on Friday.

“The RFU itself had been party to formulating this proposal at the ERC meeting on 14th March.

“On 6th March, Premier Rugby Clubs did receive a Heads of Agreement drawn up by the RFU. However, this was comprehensively rejected by the Premier Rugby negotiating team as many of the fundamental principles, including the position on the ERC shareholding, were unacceptable to the clubs.

“The clubs have made a comprehensive and strong proposal to the RFU which gives England a substantial increase in player release in return for further scope and resources to build on the success of the professional club game.”

It now seems highly likely that a truncated version of the Heineken Cup will take place next season, with four pools of four teams, and with a similar format for the Challenge Cup.

That would at least reduce the fixture congestion caused by the Rugby World Cup, which many believe is the real reason for the French strike.


365 Digital

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