Cockerill issues stark warning to RFU not to oppose clubs

As the European Cup saga rumbles on, one of the more outspoken Directors of Rugby in the English game, Leicester’s Richard Cockerill, gave his thoughts at the Heineken Cup launch yesterday.

Cockerill stated bluntly that, should the RFU follow the example of the FFR (Fédération Française de Rugby) and denounce the new breakaway tournament, it would be to the detriment of the England national team.

The RFU’s silence in this drama has been deafening, as the unions of every other nation involved have made statements opposing the Rugby Champions Cup.

Cockerill is insistent, however, that should it come to a club v country row in England (with the possibility of being barred from playing for your country if you take part in anyway breakaway tournament a real possibility), the players would side with their clubs.

“The players are contracted to their clubs and the Premiership is their bread and butter,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“Hypothetically, if they tried to exclude every Premiership player, then they would do well to sell-out Twickenham. Try going to the 2015 Rugby World Cup without any players, that would work well, wouldn’t it? Leicester fully supports what the English clubs are trying to do.”

Cockerill also bemoaned the pressures faced by English clubs to qualify for the Heineken Cup in its current format.

“There is pressure on us every week to win to ensure that we qualify for next season so that budgets can be set and season tickets sold,” he said. “Why is it alright for a Leicester or a Bath not to be involved in a Heineken Cup and it is not alright for a Munster or Leinster not to be involved?”

It has been a week of Heineken Cup launches – usually exciting affairs – that have had a huge shadow over them in the form of the continued irresolution of next year’s European competition. The English and French clubs are adamant that they will not rejoin the Heineken Cup in its current format.

Roger Lewis, chief executive of the WRU, has, however, offered himself as a go-between for the warring factions of the Anglo-French clubs and the ERC. Aware of the calamitous consequences for the Welsh regions that no European Cup involvement would have, he is choosing his position carefully, as the futures of his top players (the likes of Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny) hang in the balance.

“We need players of the calibre of Sam and Leigh to be playing in Wales,” Lewis said.

“I will do absolutely everything I can to ensure that they stay here. Keeping them here would be more difficult without a Heineken Cup. We are in danger of losing the plot here. We have the finest competition in world rugby under threat and it is incumbent on everyone to fight for it. Let us sort the competition format and let us sort the monies. We believe in meritocracy and we believe in a fair distribution of monies.”

At Monday’s launch battle lines were firmly drawn up. ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath, after lots of talk about how well the ERC have done in building the value of the tournament thus far, finally got to the nub of the issue.

“The one reason why they [the English clubs] do not want ERC to continue is to frustrate our Sky contract,” said McGrath, whose organisation have signed the rights to Sky despite the English clubs announcing their own deal with BT Sport.

“That is very clear to us. It is not about performance, it is not about what the competition is, it is about winding down a company [ERC] in the expectation that contracts will fall away. Clearly, that is not something ERC is prepared to accept.”

That seems to be in complete contrast to his, and the ERC’s statements, that everyone is working toward a common goal – resolution. This is all getting terribly, terribly tiresome, but sadly a positive outcome seems to be further away than ever.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

13 thoughts on “Cockerill issues stark warning to RFU not to oppose clubs

  1. Another Premiership rugby press release! Am getting bored with all of the tub thumping which sadly the press are more than happy to oblige.

    1. Pretty sure this was actually an interview at the Heineken Cup launch yesterday, not seen a press release with Cockerill or Lewis in it.

      1. Well you know what I mean! It was obviously the message to be delivered by the relevant parties even if by the way of an interview rather than a press release. Sorry – not having a go at you, but you know that the whole process has been managed in the press by a series of inflammatory statements and briefs, and it all smacks of political manoeuvring. Leave that gutter style of negotiation to Whitehall and please just get on with trying to sort out our game. Just getting very annoyed by the whole thing at the moment.

  2. Actually beginning to hope that the RFU do condemn the clubs now, even if it ruins our national team for a few years. The other option is that the clubs win the power struggle and our national team is ruined forever like football.

  3. ““Why is it alright for a Leicester or a Bath not to be involved in a Heineken Cup and it is not alright for a Munster or Leinster not to be involved?”” – Umm, Rich, that might still happen. Changing how the Pro 12 teams qualify won’t stop Bath not qualifying (for example). Oh, hang about, this is the resting players argument again, isn’t it? Anyway, nice to see the French teams blending their internationals back in last weekend.

    “Roger Lewis, chief executive of the WRU, has, however, offered himself as a go-between for the warring factions of the Anglo-French clubs and the ERC”. OH MY GOD. Seriously, if you thought it was screwed before then this is the real final nail in the coffin. When Woger The Dodger gets his massive gob in there, starts spouting his interminable sentences that never end, starts holding his chest and going on about “tradition” and “pride”, it’s the end of the end. If anyone involved in this has any sense they’ll lock Roger in a cupboard until it’s all done.

    Agree with Staggy – this is just the start. The clubs, when they win this, will now see themselves as the total and utter rulers. Think about it – they have unilaterally shut down an IRB/RFU approved tournament, set up their own unapproved one, ditched a TV contract and, for a Euro comp, went out and got one all on their own without involving any of the other Euro nations they might play. If they can do that then the next time someone says “rest weekend” or “autumn international” or “six nations training camp” they’ll just laugh at them.

  4. How did rugby service pefore the Heineken cup or before Aviva premiership?
    Growth is not always a good thing. Next thing you know teams will pick up stakes and move to the city with the highest bidder like American football does.

  5. Why do people keep painting the ‘clubs’ as the villains here? The real culprit is the ERC, an organisation that has so messed up it’s management of the HC that two thirds of the stakeholders/participants have felt compelled to resign en-mass and set up a rival competition. ERC have known for years that this was coming. Had they agreed changes to qualification and revenue sharing then all this could have been avoided.

    The future, if there is to be a future, obviously lies in some form of shared governance between the clubs and the unions with an equal balance of power

    1. Yes Ray, if the other four countries in the ERC had simply agreed completely to what PRL and FFR wanted then there would be no disagreement. Simple.

  6. “There is pressure on us every week to win to ensure that we qualify for next season so that budgets can be set and season tickets sold,”

    So this is a good thing. The pressure adds meaning and purpose to the games, which in turn encourages people to step through the turnstiles, which in turns (partly) funds the clubs.

    Meaningless friday night games with teams shorn of the rested international players do not generate the same excitement. Or cash.

      1. Well pointed out Brighty. Of course some squad rotation is necessary but to my mind this shows the weakness of having a play-off system to decide the winner.

        Teams like Bath know that they can afford to lose a couple, so long as they make the top four. As that’s the case, why should they risk their best players in what would have been quite a scrap against the league’s leading team? Far better to take a loss on the chin and make sure you win all your games against weaker opposition and ensure your top players are fit and rested for the play-offs.

        Relegation is still the best system as it does lead to games that have meaning throughout the season. Sometimes it can even be good for clubs – witness Quins and Northampton.

        However the play-offs were about making money and unsurprisingly it’s come back to bite the clubs on the arse as tactics like Bath’s will lead to a loss of interest amongst their support

        1. Pablito, I agree about relegation but the only caveat I’d add is that you need to have enough teams to make it meaningful. England just about manage this – I say just about because I’d say there are at most 14 teams capable of holding their own in the PRL so having two outside always trying to get in works. Does lead to some daft mismatches in division one sometimes though?

          For the Rabo, oft criticised for having no relegation, there isn’t a choice. We don’t have enough teams to make a meaningful second tier comp. It’s a shame but thats where it is.

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