Right now there’s a cold wind blowing through European rugby and it has little to do with the current storms or the weather forecast for the autumn internationals.
Having had over a year since the French and English clubs gave notice to quit the Heineken Cup, the ERC have finally got round the table to try and find a solution. They brought in their own, supposedly neutral, mediators and then sat down with the existing parties – all of whom have their own agendas.
The problem was that neither the English nor the French clubs were represented and had not been party to the appointment of the mediators.
Having waited a year with no action they have gone ahead with their own plans for a new European tournament and decided that attending the meeting in Dublin wasn’t worth the air fare – not even on Easy Jet.
The ERC in splendid isolation have come up with a new plan – in it they have partially addressed some of the concerns raised by the English and French clubs but have also ignored others.
The actual details (which are in my previous articles anyway) are less important than the attitude of the ERC and the Unions who, having finally realised that the clubs are not going to be bullied, have made a half- hearted attempt at a compromise. It is staggering that it took them two whole days in Dublin to do this – when they were all supposedly on the same side and were not in discussion with the actual protagonists.
The alternative proposed Rugby Champions Cup is gathering momentum and gaining support – not least from the Welsh regions. The Unions remain opposed to a break away but then they would wouldn’t they as they see control slipping away from them towards the clubs.
There is real concern in Wales, Ireland and Scotland that the loss of European competition will have drastic financial implications – senior players including Lions skipper Sam Warburton are delaying the renewal of contracts in case they need to take up options outside the Welsh regions.
Senior players in Scotland have expressed concern that professional rugby north of the border will die without the Heineken. Leinster have indicated that they would consider joining the new competition if no solution is found.
The ERC have stated that they will meet again next week to “discuss the implementation of
“important operational and management issues”. I wonder who they think they will be agreeing these with – it seems unlikely to be the very clubs that they are in dispute with.
There is one very important issue (amongst others) that the ERC have avoided – the board of the ERC is to remain with a majority of representatives from the Pro12 and able to outvote the Anglo French alliance – do you think the clubs will accept that? No – me either.
Meanwhile the English and French clubs are forging on with plans for their own competition and show no signs of even meeting with ERC much less considering the proposed changes that are meant to placate them.
Ironically if the ERC had started this process a year ago when the clubs first gave notice then there might have been more opportunity for a deal and the current Heineken Cup wouldn’t be looking increasingly like it will be the last.
There is even talk in South Africa that there could be interest in the new competition.
Unconfirmed rumours are that the South African Currie Cup teams are considering joining. This would increase the power of the English and French clubs and make them less reliant on the rest of the European teams coming on board. There might also be implications for Super rugby!
The Celtic clubs could well realise that the Anglo French cup may not be as good for them as the existing Heineken Cup has been but it would be a lot better than nothing at all.
The leverage of the ERC appears to be crumbling day by day at the moment.
Uncertain days in Northern Hemisphere rugby – I don’t know about you, but I could do with a Heineken right now.