Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

IRFU siding with IRB in European rugby dispute

Finished: Mark McCafferty says ERC talks are at an end

The IRFU have issued a stark warning to Irish clubs that they will not be able to jump ship and join any proposed alternative to the current Heineken Cup.

This followed another round of megaphone diplomacy with the ERC becoming ever more isolated.

The IRFU statement was significant for what was left out and there was a hint at where the ongoing debate may ultimately end.

There was no mention of ERC, the competition that runs the Heineken Cup, on a day when Mark McCafferty, representing the English clubs, confirmed that discussions with ERC were at an end.

The English and French clubs are demanding the ERC's extinction. Could this be where the solution to the crisis lies?

The Irish, Welsh and Scottish unions certainly seem to be hedging their bets in that particular direction as they rebuffed a breakaway, including a direct appeal to the IRB.

"The Irish Rugby Football Union wishes 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."

At the same time, statements were whirring from Italian, Welsh and Scottish rugby in a deliberately synchronised arrangement.

Something, clearly, is afoot ahead of next Monday's Heineken Cup launches in Wales, where ERC will be pressed on negotiations.

It had been suggested that Celtic clubs could defy their unions should the Heineken Cup become a skeletal competition.

On this basis, the IRB's next intervention will prove critical.

Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premier Rugby and the lead negotiator for the English clubs, said that teams from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Italy had shown keen interest in joining the new tournament. "Our firm belief is that they want to participate," he said.

"I know some people are trying to characterise this issue as a fight for control of the sport, as a threat to the entire governance structure of rugby union, but we don't see it in that way.

"What we want is to organise and run an ambitious, commercially successful competition that will help the clubs, provinces and regions across Europe generate the money they need to prosper."

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