News broke in The Daily Telegraph over the weekend that representatives of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian Rugby Unions were to meet this week with the RFU and its Chief Executive Ian Ritchie to discuss the ongoing European Rugby crisis.
Until now, all the unions have released statements saying they would not participate in a tournament that had not been sanctioned by ERC and the IRB, while some of them also muddied the waters by admitting a more meritocratic qualification process would be fairer than the current system – appearing to back up the complaints of the English and French clubs, who are the drivers for change.
The RFU is one of the most important players in all this, and has hitherto played its cards close to its chest. The Telegraph report claims a source from within the organisation has said it was set to be a ‘critical week’ for the hopes of striking a deal that would see a European tournament containing all European nations next season.
However, an article also appeared in The Rugby Paper over the weekend, claiming that the Welsh regions were set to ask for a bigger slice of the financial pie in any new competition. Currently, they would be £100,000 better off than under the current system, but as they feel their participation is a key factor in making the new competition successful, they feel they deserve more.
Negotiations over money aside, the willingness of the Unions to put differences aside and sit down in a room together to chat is some form of progress. If they decide the Rugby Champions Cup is, in fact, the way forwards then who knows, maybe they can even entice the English and French clubs back to the negotiating table.
And it would seem that that is becoming increasingly likely, as the Unions are beginning to realise that being involved in a new competition – even one whose terms have largely been dictated by the clubs – is beneficial to playing in a shell of a Heineken Cup, interest in which is likely to be non-existent from sponsors, broadcasters and fans alike.
That article in The Rugby Paper quoted an unknown English source as saying: “there is a reluctant acceptance of what we are doing … [there is a] realisation that what we are proposing is not as revolutionary as it sounds.
“The Unions might now recognise that this new competition is beneficial to everyone. There will be significantly more for all the competing teams.”
Despite the ugly way it has played out, progress towards a viable European alternative for next season seems to be, finally and albeit at a snail’s pace, being made.
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