Wednesday 17 January 2018

Heineken Cup on brink as Welsh regions give backing to Euro rebels

Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt
David Kelly

David Kelly

The Heineken Cup moved a step closer to extinction last night as the Welsh regions agreed to support the rival Rugby Champions Cup.

The new competition could be unveiled later this month but, as yet, there has been no meaningful reaction from the IRFU, who must sanction the involvement of Irish provinces in any reorganised competition.

"We note the recent statement from Toulon, and today's (Welsh) statement," the IRFU said in a statement. "However, as negotiations continue it would be inappropriate to comment on either."

Welsh regional rugby is in dire financial straits and the IRFU must now decide whether they can risk spending a full season outside of European competition, taking the severe financial hit that will entail.

It is believed the IRFU held talks with the English clubs' umbrella organisation earlier this week as a resolution to the dispute approaches D-Day. October 31 is the deadline for clubs to agree to join the breakaway competition.

The Welsh Union (WRU) is due in Dublin today for talks with their Irish, Scottish and Italian counterparts to discuss the crisis and it is believed they have been negotiating on behalf of their clubs.

The WRU stance is not entirely clear but it would seem as if talks surrounding the financial implications for the four Welsh regions, who receive half their funding from the union, have advanced in recent days.

Meanwhile, Joe Schmidt will today announce his squad for the triple header of November internationals, with a number of players sweating on inclusion.

Ian Madigan's inability to nail down a starting berth with Leinster has caused some to question whether Ian Keatley may leapfrog him, but Schmidt is likely to retain Madigan as a utility option, with Jonny Sexton and Paddy Jackson selected as the main out-halves.

Donncha O'Callaghan is likely to be called up as cover for the injured Donnacha Ryan while Niall Morris, the Leicester full-back, will be hopeful for a call-up to a squad that may also feature Luke Fitzgerald, who has made a recent return from injury.

Irish Independent

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