Cup on brink after English clubs join boycott threat

3rd April 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, April 3, 2007 (AFP) - The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has threatened to sue English clubs if they follow their French counterparts and pull out of next season's European Cup.

LONDON, April 3, 2007 (AFP) - The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has threatened to sue English clubs if they follow their French counterparts and pull out of next season's European Cup.

The warning came after Monday's warning by the 12 English Premiership sides that if French clubs boycotted the competition they would follow suit.

The row that has brought the European Cup to the brink was triggered by the Premiership clubs' call for some of the RFU shares in European Rugby Cup Limited, in addition to greater voting rights.

Premier Rugby - the clubs' umbrella body - argue the European Cup would not be a genuine European competition without the French teams.

But RFU management board chairman Martyn Thomas insisted the clubs were contracted to participate in the European Cup and confirmed Twickenham would pursue legal action against them if they refuse.

He told BBC Radio Four on Tuesday: "We have a contract with our clubs which we signed in 2001 and in relation to Europe it is very simple.

"It says the clubs will compete in the European Cup or the European Shield. That lasts until 2007 so I am at a loss to understand their statement last night that they believe they can pull out."

Asked whether the RFU would have to sue Premier Rugby, Thomas added: "Regrettably that would be the case. Unfortunately again it is a situation of rugby having to resort to the courts."

The LNR, which represents the top 14 French sides, is likely to decide by Thursday whether or not to walk away.

Concern at the RFU's refusal to hand over share and voting rights - plus anxiety over fixture congestion next season, which starts with the Rugby World Cup - are behind the militant French stance.

Thomas remains hopeful an agreement can be reached but Premier Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty is less optimistic.

"I'm going to continue to find a way to pull the French clubs back in but today the prospect of that, when the French clubs decide on Thursday, doesn't look great," McCafferty said.

Thomas and the RFU believe the European Cup issue forms part of a wider picture of negotiations on how the game is run in England and should not be taken in isolation.

"We have always maintained the critical issue is to sort out the difficulty of the season and the production of good elite players in England," Thomas said.

"The Heineken Cup is very important but it is part of the bigger picture and the most important picture is about player welfare and a successful England."

The English club's threatened boycott was greeted with bitter irony by French Federation chief Bernard Lapasset, who had won a reprieve from the French clubs last week to delay their deadline voer the boycott.

"I find the English clubs' decision, extraordinarily courageous," he said sarcastically.

"It provokes this reflection from me 'Mister Frenchman, fire the first shot'.

"I do not find this very courageous. All it does is send the ball back into the French court."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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