French want nothing to do with English cup plans
French clubs have no intention of quitting the European Cup and Challenge competitions and playing in an alternative tournament just with English clubs, the vice-president of the French National Rugby League (LNR) told AFP on Monday.
Patrick Wolff said that his body wanted to continue playing the European Cup with both the English and the Celtic clubs but had resisted serious pressure from the heads of the English Premiership to split from the present competitions.
All the stakeholders in European Rugby Cup (ERC — the tournament organisers) which are the respective national league authorities and federations from the Six Nations playing countries are set to meet on Tuesday in Dublin at the request of the French and the English to negotiate a new deal for the competitions from the 2014/15 season.
The English and French teams believe the European Cup’s current format is weighted in favour of the Celtic nations as Leinster and Munster have won five of the last seven editions between them.
Leinster have won three of the last four European Cups and their rivals in England and France claim that is partly a result of a qualification system that allows them to rest their players during the Pro12 season.
The English and French sides believe no more than six Pro12 teams should qualify, although that would put at risk the involvement of Scottish and Italian sides who currently qualify automatically.
However, Wolff said that there was no way the French would do anything as dramatic as walking away hand in hand with their English counterparts.
“The English put a lot of pressure on us in the past few months to accept the idea of an alternative Franco/Anglo club competition almost like it was a condition before discussing anything else,” he told AFP.
“That we did not want to do.
“Save a catastrophic failure at the negotiations, which I don’t think will happen, we want to play with the Celts and with the English.
“For us, there is a product (the European Cup). This product must be improved at the negotiations.
“We wish that everything will be resolved by the end of the year. Rugby has no interest in being swept up in uncertainty during two years.
“It is imperative that everyone structures things properly in their own country.” Wolff’s conciliatory tone ahead of the talks was in contrast to his English counterparts (Premiership Rugby) who last week announced to great fanfare a TV deal with BT Vision worth £152 million ($245 million) over four years from next season.
However, continental rugby chiefs say a clause granting BT exclusive live broadcast rights to matches played by Premiership clubs in any future European competitions from 2014-15 for three years is invalid.
In a statement issued following a board meeting at its Dublin headquarters last Wednesday, ERC said the “purported deal” was in breach both of International Rugby Board (IRB) regulations and an ERC board mandate.
The statement said it was “unanimously agreed” at an ERC board meeting on June 6 that ERC would conclude a new four-year agreement with satellite broadcaster Sky Sports for the UK and Ireland exclusive live broadcast rights to the European Cup and the European Challenge Cup until 2018.
However, following that ERC statement BT’s executive director Mark Watson said that he was willing to create a new European competition when the present deal with ERC ends at the climax of the 2013-14 season.