From today's Daily Telegraph (28.07.98)
English and French clubs in urgent talks
By Brendan Gallagher
ENGLAND'S top clubs have accepted, with some alacrity, an invitation by a
breakaway group of eight French clubs to enter into formal negotiations
concerning the formation of a new European tournament for the
forthcoming season. Such a project would also include Cardiff and
Swansea from the Welsh Premier Division.
Doug Ash, chief executive of English Rugby Partnership, confirmed
yesterday that he would be meeting urgently with the dissident French
clubs, including Toulouse and Brive, who withdrew from the Heineken
European Cup, organised by European Rugby Cup Ltd, on Sunday. Their
action is viewed in France as a protest against the French Federation's
refusal to honour an agreement to limit the French first division to 16
teams next season.
"We made our stance at the end of last year and the French clubs have
followed us in withdrawing their support from European Rugby Cup," Ash
said yesterday. "We will never go back into Europe under the conditions
and rules set by ERC.
"Now the French have also pulled out, we are trying to establish what the
possibility is of organising an 11th hour alternative. ERC have lost the
overwhelming bulk of clubs who have featured in the knock-out stages of
the last two competitions - in our case because we disagree with the way
the ERC organised the competition.
"If we can set something up, it will be organised by the clubs - by the
participants - with the approval of the unions. But there are huge factors
that need to be favourable - commerce, TV, sponsorship and, overridingly,
inserting the fixtures into a crowded season.
Roger Pickering, ERC tournament director, confirmed last night that he had
received assurances yesterday from the French Federation's president,
Bernard Lapasset, and Brian Baister, newly-elected chairman of the Rugby
Football Union's management board, that their clubs would only be allowed
to compete in an officially sanctioned competition. Without the participation
of Irish, Scottish and Italian teams it is impossible to see how this could
"Clubs do not have the right to organise their own cross-border
competitions, as they can only be sanctioned by the International Rugby
Board," warned Scottish IRB member Charlie Bisset yesterday. "If the clubs
involved were to go ahead with such a move they would be in breach of
the board's regulations, and I can say that those regulations will be