Friday 23 February 2018

Saracens chairman hopes that English clubs boycott Heineken Cup

Nigel Wray
Nigel Wray

Nigel Wray, the Saracens chairman, insisted on Friday night that there could be no genuine European competition without the English clubs and urged his fellow Premiership chairmen to back the boycott of next year’s Heineken Cup.

The decision of the French clubs on Thursday to side with their federation was a jolt to English ambitions of an Anglo-French alliance but also opened up the possibility that the Premiership contingent might be persuaded back into the mainstream European fold.

Wray poured cold water on that notion.

“I hope the English clubs stay out,” Wray, one of the longest serving figures in the professional game, said.

“We have had enough of short-term expediency. It is time to stick to our guns.

"Frankly, there can be no genuine European competition without the English clubs.

"And I don’t say that in the belief that we are b-----y marvellous but quite simply because there are more of us.

"In the chase for TV and broadband subscriptions, the fact that there are 60 million in England will be the factor that helps determine all this.

“Sky Sports may say that they are happy to back the status quo without us at the moment but the reality is that they will not be in the long run.

"As for possibly going back in for one season, I can’t see the point in us limping back in where there is still no true democracy with the English clubs constantly being outvoted because of the nature of the set-up.”

Wray admitted that the decision of the Top 14 clubs, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, undermined the English clubs.

“Yes, absolutely so, but we are not going to cave in now and go back to them all cap in hand.

“The French decision was very disappointing, but not entirely unexpected given the legal nature of their relationship with their federation.

"I don’t quite understand how they can be called to heel by their union in such fashion as I would have thought European law entitles you to conduct your business wherever you like.”

The Welsh regions had professed interest in supporting the English clubs but their union last week sided with European Rugby Cup.

There has been a mooted link with South African sides, but even though Saracens have strong South African connections, Wray does not see an English-South African competition in the short term.

“In the long term, it is inevitable that South African teams will head up here to play,” he said.

“Same time zone, same broadcasting market, greater revenues – it all points to that.

"But playing them in the short term doesn’t make sense. There are existing tournaments there.

"I would like to see the Welsh regions in an expanded Aviva Premiership.

“We were so close to getting it all sorted: one vote per league, money split three ways and a Six Nations-type governance.

"But we cannot sacrifice our principles now.”

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