Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Dallaglio: Row hurts World Cup hope

Former England international Lawrence Dallaglio has called for an end to the Heineken Cup row.
Former England international Lawrence Dallaglio has called for an end to the Heineken Cup row.

Two-time Heineken Cup winner Lawrence Dallaglio has urged Europe's warring factions to save a competition he views as critical to the northern hemisphere's chances of lifting the World Cup.

The prospect of a speedy resolution to the dispute receded on Tuesday when European Rugby Cup announced the next round of negotiations would be held in six weeks' time on October 23 - at the same time as Rugby Football Union chief executive Ian Ritchie was declaring it a matter of urgency.

English and French clubs, frustrated that their demands for structural, qualification and financial changes have been stonewalled, last week declared they would now establish their own competition that teams from other nations were welcome to join.

The Heineken Cup produced two career highlights for Dallaglio, who was at the helm when Wasps won the 2004 and 2007 titles, and the former England captain insists failure to preserve it would have ramifications on a grand scale.

"Those responsible for organising the best tournaments in Europe have a responsibility to make sure the best players are playing against each other on the biggest stage of all," he said.

"That is especially the case in the build up to a World Cup as all but one has been won by the southern hemisphere.

"We've had a hard job wrestling the cup from the southern hemisphere, so we need to have the best competitions in this part of the world for the players to play in.

"That's what the various unions and umbrella organisations have the obligation to do - and privately not publicly.

"As a player I'd be enormously disappointed if I wasn't appearing in the best competition of all having played in that competition a few times before."

Dallaglio was unimpressed by the proposed Anglo-French tournament that Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby will seek to introduce if the RaboDirect PRO12 teams refuse to come on board.

"I believe the Heineken Cup is a wonderful competition that gives every country in Europe an edge that would be foolish to underestimate," he said.

"We all have the same interests at heart, so it's in our best interests that we play each other."

The RFU, placed in a difficult position due to their interest in ERC and loyalty to the Aviva Premiership clubs, have adopted a careful public line that was maintained by Ritchie on Tuesday.

Ritchie stated that any competition must include all European nations and is "optimistic" a compromise will be reached, but refused to "give up our negotiating position in public".

"It's important for a game as a whole that we get these negotiations settled. I certainly get that they must be dealt with as a matter of urgency," Ritchie said.

"The objectives are clear - we want to see a meritocratic competition in Europe, both competitively and in terms of financial distribution. Our clubs are very keen on that.

"Our view as well is that we would seek to achieve a European competition that would involve clubs from Scotland, Wales, France - wherever.

"We must find the right balance of negotiation between those parties because obviously it's important for our clubs in England and we want to support our clubs in England.

"Is it occasionally fraught, challenging and difficult? All of the above, but that's what we have to try and get to.

"I don't minimise the difficulties. There are passionate, strongly-held views on all sides. I am ever the optimist."

Recriminations continued on Tuesday when ERC president Jean-Pierre Lux accused the English and French clubs of using "guerilla" tactics.

Any new competition such as the proposed Anglo-French tournament would have to be ratified by the RFU, the French Rugby Federation and International Rugby Board.

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