At a hotel near Orly airport, just outside of Paris, the LNR may today have condemned the Premiership clubs to a future, for next season at least, without European rugby. According to reports from French site RugbyRama, the LNR (Ligue Nationale de Rugby, the French equivalent of Premiership Rugby), after a vote, have decided to back the ERC-run Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups and renege on their decision to form a breakaway tournament with the English ‘rebels’. They now have until the end of February to convince the English clubs to join in too, otherwise the competition will go ahead without them – just as it did in 1999.
In a tiresome and seemingly never-ending saga, it is the biggest blow yet to Premiership Rugby who had, until now, always had the backing of LNR and the (majority of) French clubs. Interestingly, it seems it was far from a unanimous decision. According to the article, Racing Métro president, a staunch advocate of the Rugby Champions Cup, stormed out of the meeting, ‘considerably annoyed’.
So what now? The FFR appear to have got their way, after offering the French clubs a considerable sum of money to stick with the Heineken Cup, but what form will that competition take next season? It seems highly unlikely the English clubs will swallow their pride and return to an ERC-led competition, even if it means sitting out of European competition for a year. Their deal with BT to broadcast the Rugby Champions’ Cup now also seems rushed and ill-advised, seeing as BT have now effectively bought the rights to a competition that will not exist. Where do they go from here? Do they look towards South Africa, as has been mooted in some parts? As good a spectacle as that would be, it hardly seems feasible with the amount of rugby already being played in a long and arduous season.
Without the English clubs competing, it seems unlikely the French clubs will give their all in the Heineken Cup. Several have been guilty in the past of fielding weakened sides and prioritising the Top 14, which is worth a lot more financially to the owners, in the past anyway. It will surely mean there will be no qualification system at all in the RaboDirect PRO12 – what effect will that have on the quality of the league?
Whatever happens, it would seem that any European tournaments taking place next year will be shadows of those we have known and loved for the past decade and more.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images