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Puerile power trip by Anglo-French

By Niall Crozier

Monday saw the first of the Heineken Cup 2013-14 launches, with the curtain going up in Paris.

That was somewhat ironic given the powerful French clubs' apparent desire to assist their kindred spirits in England in bringing about the competition's end.

Yes, they turned out in force and appeared to say all the right things. For example, Bernard Laporte, coach of last season's winners Toulon, said: "We certainly want to win it again – because it is the Heineken Cup. It is the supreme competition."

Thierry Dusautoir, captain of Toulouse, the most successful French club in the tournament's history, said: "We love this competition. We have four stars on our jerseys to show the four European titles we've won, but I have only won it once with Toulouse. It would be great to add to that."

William Servat, a three-times Heineken Cup winner and now assistant coach of Toulouse added: "The Heineken Cup has given so much to the game and has certainly helped to raise standards. You can't afford to underestimate any team in this tournament. A few years ago there may have been a few easier matches, but no longer. This is what makes the Heineken Cup so special."

So representatives of France's top clubs publicly hailed the tournament as one they love. Which prompts one to ask why, if it means so much to them, why are they dragging it to European club rugby's equivalent of the guillotine?

Jean-Pierre Lux, the independent chairman of the ERC, told it like it is when he said: "The recent media releases from the Lique Nationale de Rugby and Premiership Rugby lacked respect.

"In June, the LNR committed to the principle of central marketing for ERC's tournaments which has been the at the heart of European club rugby's commercial success.

"While this process began in 2012, ERC met with the parties during the summer, with the exception of Premiership Rugby who refused to engage. They have never entered into negotiations. This impasse is essentially because Premiership Rugby want to renege on a binding commercial deal in favour of their questionable TV contract with BT.

"I sincerely hope that people reflect on the current problems. We have another opportunity for everyone to finally engage with the process with the meeting on October 23 and 24 with the IRB-recommended mediator, Graeme Mew. I hope we will be able to reach an agreement .

"It would be disastrous to deprive so many players and fans of the opportunity of participating in such an outstanding tournament," he warned.

Alas, Monsieur Lux is outnumbered in his own country where the big clubs appear to believe they are bigger than their Union. The same is true in England, so it was heartening when he reminded them that, like it or not, there are rules by which they are bound.

"The FFR has now officially reminded the LNR that no international game involving French clubs can take place without the advance permission of the FFR. And the RFU has a similar position regarding Premiership Rugby," he said.

England's biggest clubs have shown total disrespect by refusing to meet the ERC to negotiate, or to accept a mediator whose credentials are exemplary. Their sole objective seems to be a new competition in which they make the rules.

On Monday, the English clubs and Welsh regions will attend their launch-date in Cardiff. Ireland's four provinces go on show on Tuesday in Dublin, followed by the two Scottish districts on Wednesday in Glasgow. The Italians' turn comes after.

Right now one can only wonder how many of those Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian concerns will feature in any future European tournament(s)? Recent events have confirmed that a format re-jig – even one whereby they would enjoy a greater share of the monetary pie, coupled with inclusion based on PRO12 finishing positions rather than mere participation in that competition – was never going to satisfy the Anglo-French accord.

Why so? Because what they really want is what the ERC has, namely ownership of any European club rugby tournament(s). This is about the big boys on both sides of the Channel taking control and running things in a manner designed, first and foremost, to look after their interests. And if that is done to the detriment of Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian rugby, tough luck Paddy, Jock, Taff and Mario.

That is why Monday's Parisian circus stuck in the craw. And that is why next Monday's follow-up act in Cardiff – where, doubtless, the English will tell the world how good the Heineken Cup is and much they have enjoyed participating in it – will be equally hard to swallow.

Please God they will not insult us with any platitudes about how much they have enjoyed our company in a great competition, from which the time has come to move on.

Belfast Telegraph


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