Rugby: England key to ending French boycott

24th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

LONDON, Jan 24, 2007 (AFP) - European Rugby Cup chairman Jean-Pierre Lux has urged England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) to resolve its differences with the country's elite Premiership clubs in a bid to save next season's European Cup, currently under threat from a proposed boycott by French sides.

LONDON, Jan 24, 2007 (AFP) - European Rugby Cup chairman Jean-Pierre Lux has urged England's Rugby Football Union (RFU) to resolve its differences with the country's elite Premiership clubs in a bid to save next season's European Cup, currently under threat from a proposed boycott by French sides.

Last week Serge Blanco, president of France's Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), placed the future of the tournament in jeopardy when he said his members would not play in the 2007-08 European Cup.

The legendary France full-back blamed the RFU for failing to hand over half of its shareholding and voting rights in the running of the European Cup to Premiership clubs.

Blanco also added that it was impractical to squeeze European Cup fixtures into the French domestic season, which doesn't start until after the country has finished hosting the World Cup following the October 20 final in Paris.

Lux admitted Blanco could not be persuaded to change course and that he couldn't guarantee that European club rugby union's leading tournament would continue beyond this season when the Paris Accord, the six-nation agreement that governs how the competition is run, expires.

The owners of England's 12 Premiership clubs are due to meet in London on Thursday ahead of an ERC shareholders meeting on February 7.

Lux, a former France international, said a new agreement was "effectively ready" but that its signing had been delayed by the boycott threat.

However, he stressed the only way of breaking rugby union's latest club-versus-country row was for the RFU to soften its stance.

"For the moment, we are waiting," Lux told reporters at Twickenham here Tuesday where the draw for this season's European Cup semi-finals was being conducted. "Serge Blanco cannot change his position. But what can change is the situation in England between the clubs and the union.

"The English and French clubs want to have power in the tournament. When Bernard Lapasset (president of the French union) agreed with Serge Blanco to give him 48 percent of the shareholding, Serge was happy with that.

"But he was waiting for the same in England. With English teams and French teams having those shares, he thinks it will be better for control of the ERC in the future."

Any French boycott could lead to similar action by Premiership clubs. Asked how confident he was a full-strength European Cup would take place next season, an uncertain Lux replied: "It is a board decision. We have a meeting next Wednesday and, of course, we will talk about that. For the moment, I cannot tell you if everybody will agree."

Lux, the LNR representative on ERC, has tried to distance himself from the boycott threat because "I think its is better."

And he insisted a compromise could be found to deal with the long-running problem of fixture congestion.

"The fixture problem is not new. It is hard for the clubs because we cannot begin the domestic competition until after the World Cup," Lux said. "But it is possible to find a solution.

"Perhaps we play through the Six Nations and when France go to Australia on tour in the (northern) summer of 2008 they do not take players in the semi-finals or finals. Perhaps that way we can have a season."

In the draw for the semi-finals England's double former champions Leicester or Paris's Stade Francais will face either Welsh giants Llanelli or Irish reigning Euro champions Munster.

The other semi-final will see French top seeds Biarritz or England's Northampton, the 2000 European champions, up against 2004 English European Cup winners Wasps or Irish province Leinster.

The exact line-up will be known once the quarter-finals have taken place on the weekend of March 30 to April 1. Twickenham hosts the European Cup final on May 20.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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