Monday 22 January 2018

Momentum with the old guard as D-Day looms

Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The next pit stop on the tortuous circuit that is the future of European club rugby will be on December 2. That's when the presidents of the French clubs will get together to review their position in the wake of Pierre Camou's bid last week to strengthen the status quo.

Two days ago, Camou, the FFR president and a man on the charge towards retaining power in the hands of the unions, met with a handful of representatives of LNR, the French clubs' body. Paul Goze, the boss of the clubs, will take what he can from that meeting and bring it to the presidents who then must decide if they are going to pursue their role in the proposed Rugby Champions Cup, or take their place at the ERC table.

After a first half dominated by Mark McCafferty of PRL, the English clubs' body, the second half has seen a comeback by ERC. We are now heading into the final quarter and it will be the French who decide which side wins.

The statement on Thursday night from the five of the six unions involved – excluding England who were specifically not invited to the meeting in Dublin – ramps up the pressure on the PRL/LNR axis to put meat on the bones of their RCC plan.

While the Welsh regions in theory are part of that breakaway, the reality it that they will run with whoever guarantees them enough cash to become viable.

Rather it is the French clubs who have to choose between taking on the FFR or staying within the ERC fold. The FFR are fully backed by Government in their position that no French club will be taking part in any cross-border competition other than the Heineken Cup. It is understood this position was reiterated to minister for transport, tourism and sport Leo Varadkar by his French counterpart at the WADA meeting in Johannesburg two weeks ago.

Thursday's statement by the five unions reiterates that the Heineken Cup will kick off on schedule next season with 20 teams. It is understood that Camou at that meeting guaranteed that he can deliver enough French clubs to toe the line in one of the European competitions, ie the Heineken.

He has tied in domestic business with cross-border affairs, saying that there can be no new agreement between the FFR and LNR on how rugby in France is run – its structure, broadcasting or finance – until the European affair is put to bed.

On December 3, the day after the French presidents are due to be briefed by Goze, the LNR is scheduled to meet about finalising a TV contract, but it's hard to see how that can happen without some movement on their row with FFR.

The Federation then will hold their AGM from 6-8 December, with the LNR following with their annual meeting the next week. So, by the time the back-to-back rounds of the Heineken Cup conclude, on the weekend of December 14/15, we should be clearer on where the French stand.

If they refuse to partake in the Heineken Cup then Camou is determined to find some teams from France who will – it would make for a sow's ear of a competition which Sky would have to present as a silk purse – while making sure that those who don't partake will have no other international outlet. The momentum is with the old guard.

Sunday Independent

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