The International Rugby Board’s chief executive, Brett Gosper, has fired a warning shot into the conflict over the future of the European game, suggesting the body would not sanction plans for a new Anglo-French competition.
Any European tournament not only requires the blessings of the respective home unions but also the IRB, and as the 12 Premiership clubs met in London yesterday to discuss their options, Gosper advised against a competition involving only the English and French sides.
"We don't think that's in the best interests of the game a competition such as that, no," said Gosper, as reported by the Independent.
"We don't believe in an Anglo-French competition.
"We strongly believe it should be a European competition and that's what we would be supporting and throwing our weight behind.
"We know there are lots of discussions that are happening but we urge all of those parties to get together and find some common ground because we believe it's in the interests of the game to do so.
"We have to ultimately approve any cross-border competition.
"Firstly each union has to approve it. The FFR [the French federation] has to approve for their clubs to play in a cross-border, the RFU the4 same thing and ultimately for a cross-border competition the IRB has to approve."
The IRB’s wish is that the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian sides should be included in any future competition.
However, at a meeting yesterday the English Premiership clubs reiterated that they, plus the French clubs, will leave the Heineken Cup at the end of this season and want to immediately begin their own tournament, free from European Rugby Cup Ltd, who run the current Heineken Cup competition.
The Anglo-French teams have invited the Celtic nations and the Italians to join them. The English and French want a tournament with different structural, qualification and financial criteria to the current set-up.
The views of Gosper today indicate the size of obstacles that lie in the way of any Anglo-French competition, especially if the IRB’s stance were to toughen. If the Top 14 and Premiership decide to go it alone then it could lead, in the worst scenario, to a split in Rugby.
With the competition in opposition to the game’s governing body, the IRB, participating players could face, in the most extreme case, an international ban. Although, fines for the unions, the RFU and the FFR, and the clubs involved seem more likely.
So far, the IRB has yet to become involved directly in the dispute but Gosper has urged the various parties to get together. ERC do not have a meeting scheduled until late next month, and it is by no means certain a Premiership or representative will attend.
After the meeting of Premiership rugby a statement insisted that: "The clubs see no purpose in new discussions starting as late as the end of October."
But Gosper is still hopeful a solution can be achieved.
"I would urge all the parties to come together for the negotiations," he said.
"They may all have different views but we believe in a European organisation and a European competition and that is our starting point."
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