French u-turn leaves English in the lurch over Europe

Pierre Camou, chief of the FFR (Féderation Française de Rugby), has made an enticing offer to the French clubs in a bid to get them to commit to the current competition structures, continuing under the auspices of ERC. This comes in the wake of his commitment of French representation to the existing ERC structure, despite the agreement made by the Top 14 clubs to their English counterparts to participate in an independently run tournament.

Camou has reportedly warned the clubs that there will be no new deal with the French union over television rights and player release unless they withdraw their support for the Rugby Champions Cup, the English clubs’ ‘rebel’ tournament that they had previously committed to.

Perhaps more significantly, he has also offered the clubs €2 million (£1.68 million) each to participate in the ERC-driven competitions, and set them a deadline of next month to make their minds up.

All this is set against the backdrop of a rumoured meeting of the unions in Dublin on Thursday, to which the RFU is the only one not to be invited. It is believed the Irish, Welsh, French, Scottish and Italian unions will discuss plans to surge ahead with revised versions of the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups, without the participation of the English clubs.

The Celtic, Italian and French unions are reportedly happy to go ahead with a tournament not including the English for the good of the long term game, despite the immediate set-backs a less diverse tournament would create. It is also believed they are determined to honour the existing broadcasting rights deal with Sky Sports.

The English clubs, however, are believed to still be confident that the French clubs, as well as the Welsh regions, who have both previously pledged their support to the Rugby Champions Cup, will take part in the new tournament, which will be broadcast by BT Sport.

With Premiership Rugby reportedly prepared to legally challenge any move to block clubs from joining the Rugby Champions Cup, Europe is as divided as ever over the issue of its club rugby future. The prospect of two watered-down competitions seems like a very real possibility.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

21 thoughts on “French u-turn leaves English in the lurch over Europe

  1. Cue much Celtic gloating on these threads and painting English clubs as the bad guys. Both sides of the argument have been pretty unedifying tbh. And for those gloating at a potential absence of Eng clubs, you will have to accept a big drop in revenue. Also be wary of an agreement where the French are the big winners. The player drain to the t14 will get even worse.

    Personally I’d be very happy with a cross border competition with the Saffas. Its not often I agree with Gatland but NH players need more exposure to SH.

  2. Ahh, the old divide and conquer manoeuvre. Bit risky for the FFR to play such hard ball with the LNR, desperate times I guess.

    I have no issue with an attempt to keep the competition ERC run (who runs it is far less important than whether a competition exists or not), but holding a discussion without the RFU even being present just seems daft if your end goal is a competition with everyone in. If the end goal is a competition with everyone in but the English then that I think it’s a bonkers objective.

  3. It is hard to escape the impression that the European clubs, the players, their unions and their leagues are all just being used as “weapons” to fight the far bigger commercial war for broadband customers, being waged between Sky and BT.

    1. Viva La Resistance!

      Whilst Toulon may align with FFR (for the ridiculous reason of not wanting any constraints on the numbers of non-French players) and some of the “have nots” may welcome a handout I’m not sure everyone is going to jump at this.

  4. I don’t think there is a need for much gloating.

    -English and French clubs wanted more even finance splits and qualification from the celtic league. This has now been agreed.
    -The french and english clubs didn’t want association with ERC.
    -Camou has now made an appealing offer to get French clubs to stay with ERC.
    -If they accept, the English clubs will be left in the lurch.
    -The only real embarrassment if for the club owners (who were incredibly disparaging about celtic nations having to join the RCC).

    I haven’t enjoyed some of the english club owner’s attitude in interviews on the issue so I am quite happy in that regard. However, the most important thing is that there is a pan-european comp next year and this should include the english (of course).

    Who knows maybe english teams will become more competitive as a result. Probably not though. (Couldn’t resist).

  5. Where is the U turn mentioned in the title? The FFR have never supported the champions cup and there is nothing in this article about the LNR changing their position.

    1. From the Telegraph:
      “Premiership Rugby is understood to have received assurances that Top 14 clubs remain committed to participating in Rugby Champions Cup next season.”

  6. Just more twists and turns in the rather unappealing slug fest that European rugby is engaged in at the moment. Wake me up when someone decides something sensible. Until then no one gets my support for any competition.

  7. Have I got this right, the French have gone back on themselves in a move that can jeopardise the state of English rugby? That seems quite French…
    Anyway this dispute has exposed me to so many different acronyms that I have no idea who is who or what they want any more.

  8. It looks vey much like our clubs have overplayed their hand and will find themselves isolated again (1998-99?). As the French domestic TV rights (Canal+ v beIN) means that the FFR can coerce the French clubs back into ERC (sweetened by a bribe), what do we do with our empty 9 weekends? I would rather a 16 team Premiership than a pointless domestic RCC.

    1. Brilliant Don. I think you win the award for the silliest email of the year

      Calling racism over a comment quoting the Simpsons. It really couldn’t be more absurd

  9. As an Irishman, I’ve observed this whole never-ending storyline with no small bit of distress (we’ve developed a profound emotional attachment to the Heineken Cup over the years and have no desire to find ourselves relying on the goodwill of English and French overlords in a new competition). What I’ve found most annoying is not that the English and French clubs are focused on their own interests (that much I would assume), but that the message sometimes from the most vocal mouthpieces of the English clubs (e.g., McCafferty and Wray) is that everyone else should be too. It’s almost as if they think the Irish and all the rest should also be motivated by what’s best for English rugby, and it baffles them to the point of questioning our intelligence that we’re not happy to jump to their tune.

    I’ve always tried to remain at the more rational end of the rugby supporting spectrum, but it’s becoming harder and harder nowadays. I know this is at least partly counterproductive, but I’d sooner see the whole house of cards fall than see the Anglo-French power grab come to pass. The thing is, from the Irish perspective, that’s not as crazy as it sounds. We have effectively been presented with two options by McCafferty and co – stay out of the RCC and die fast, come into the RCC and die slow. But that’s ok, it’s all about what’s good for English rugby!

    Rational? I used to be!

    1. Mark, obviously the English and French clubs are obliged to be self-centred, as they are run as businesses.

      However, i cannot see how their self-interest will be enhanced by letting the Irish (or other nations) provinces/teams “die”.

      No Irish teams equals no valid European competition. Italy maybe, but not Ireland, Wales or even Scotland.

      The underlying constant amongst all of this is that the European paying public LOVE the european cup (in whatever guise), and neither side can afford a sustained fracture in the “whole” competition, as the interest and the money will dry up.

      Everyone has the same end game in mind, it is more about which TV companies prevail (through their proxies in the rugby community).

      1. I agree that the subtext to the whole thing may well be the Sky v BT contract conflict, and how that will play out, who knows. If the RCC goes ahead, it’ll surely end up in court. If the HC continues next season, but without English clubs, what does that do their BT contract?

        On the broader point, though, of course, I don’t think any English clubs think the death of the professional game in the Celtic nations will be good for them. But, I think there’s a philosophical condescension operating in terms of what the role of the Celtic nations will be. From the Irish perspective, we’ve been very successful in the HC, and at times have detected an irritation from the French and English about that fact, as if it confirms that there is something wrong with the competition (that’s separate to the governance issues, of course). So, from the perspective, the idea then follows that English and French dominance on the pitch is the natural order and somehow ‘correct’. I have no doubt but that under this vision, the Celtic nations have a place, but largely as fixture fillers and player feeders, filling out the tv schedule while the French and English clubs battle for the honours. Perhaps ‘death’ is the wrong term, but to suggest that part of the game plan is to hobble and undermine the likes of the Irish (i.e., restore the natural order) does not seem to outlandish here. Because Irish teams have been so successful over the history of the HC, if the rugby public in Ireland suddenly saw the provinces reduced to glorified feeders for the English and French, that would signal the death knell for the professional game, the ‘slow death’ I referred to.

        It’s not an optimistic outlook, I concede, but it’s hard to feel particularly optimistic about the future of the European club game from over here at the moment…

  10. Mark, I think you’ll find that irritation at the success of others is simply a reflection of one’s own failure.

    That is, it doesn’t matter who wins. If its not your own, then you are irritated. I cannot imagine that any entity is any more irritated because the winners are Irish.

    There is a wonderful phrase that describes the Scots stereotypical relationship with the English; noting their huge frustration at “their unrequited hatred of the English”.

    This is often where the tired old label of “arrogance” emanates, and I am not sure that your “philosophical condescension” has any real merit, even if it is inferred.

    Point is that, everyone has much to gain, and much to lose, in this whole euro rugby kerfuffle, and whilst the battle lines are drawn across national boundaries, it is not the nationalities or the nationalistic prejudices that are the issue, but the differences in the structure of the game in each country.

    France and England are not condescending, they just have an entirely different dynamic to their domestic game.

    It may be argued that some of the negotiating styles are condescending, but I am sure that any number of labels could (accurately) be used to describe all of the parties styles/approaches/positions in this.

  11. To me the ERC are a cartel representing the interests of the 6N unions and only the 6N unions. It does not have a significant interest in the game in the rest of Europe (there is not one single representative from AER-FIRA, the body that represents rugby in all of Europe, on the board). The ERC are not angels who are protecting the wider European game, they represent the 6N unions.

    Therefore, does the ERC really have moral superiority over the RCC? Both organisations are looking after their own members interests only.

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