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Wrangles rumble on in Europe

European rugby bosses have confirmed internal wrangling could delay the appointment of a figurehead chairman for the revamped continental game by five months.

The search for an independent chairman to lead European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) is already three months behind schedule, and could stretch beyond March.

Europe's new governing body EPCR was forced to commission predecessor European Rugby Cup (ERC) to run this term's competitions, unable to secure new operations in Switzerland quickly enough.

The new set-up remains on course to take full control a year behind schedule in Neuchatel next term, after redundancy packages were agreed with ERC staff.

European chiefs confirmed that 10 or 11 of ERC's 15 staff will accept redundancy deals this summer, with EPCR now seeking new recruits for their Switzerland base.

"There has to be unanimous agreement on the new chairman from the nominations committee, which is sometimes hard to get," interim chairman Paul McNaughton told Press Association Sport.

"There have been many discussions but we are hoping to make progress over the next couple of months, and there are still a number of candidates out there."

McNaughton will revert to his role as vice-chairman in a five-strong EPCR executive committee once the permanent independent chairman is appointed.

The former Ireland team manager had expected EPCR to ratify the new chairman as far back as October, but the process still rumbles on.

The new EPCR set-up is the fruit of two years of civil war across Europe, but has resulted in record TV revenue and more meritocratic qualification processes.

The Champions Cup has replaced the Heineken Cup, with the old governing body ERC rendered defunct this summer, one season behind schedule.

McNaughton confirmed part of the delay in appointing EPCR's new chairman centres around the hunt for a director general to compete that five-strong executive committee.

"The nominations committee has proposed to the board that we recruit a chairman and a director general at the same time," said McNaughton.

"What we'll concentrate on at the moment is the organisation of the new structure in Neuchatel and going through that process with staff.

"The new chairman is important, but there is other work we have to get done as well at the same time.

"It's important to ensure we build the right structure of the organisation in Neuchatel, and that must be step one.

"Step two then is what type of director general we aim for, and three, a chairman to complement the director general.

"Four or five of the ERC staff will be moving to Switzerland but the vast majority will not.

"There's no perfect scenario when staff have to choose between redundancy and moving from Dublin to Switzerland, but it has been our priority to ensure that process has been conducted as professionally as possible.

"And the ERC staff have shown extremely high professionalism in continuing to run the tournament this season."

McNaughton admitted European bosses must address fresh concerns over the second-tier Challenge Cup that has been hit with new criticism this season.

This year's Challenge Cup winners will not qualify automatically for next season's Champions Cup, and teams no longer drop down from the top to the second tier at the quarter-final stage.

Grenoble coach Bernard Jackman branded the Challenge Cup a "pointless competition", voicing general dissatisfaction that has forced a rethink among European bosses.

McNaughton said boosting Challenge Cup prize money will be discussed at next month's EPCR board meeting.

"There's a feeling out there that the Challenge Cup has lost something and that's something we have to address," said McNaughton.

"Increasing prize money may be one of the ways we could seek to look at this.

"Actually though there is already reward for the Challenge Cup winners that many people haven't realised.

"The winners of the Challenge Cup can still qualify for the Champions Cup play-offs if they haven't already done so through league position."

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