Regions can't take part in breakaway European tournament — WRU
THE unions of the Pro12 spoke with one voice yesterday to block any regions, provinces or clubs from taking part in European tournaments that do not have the approval of the governing bodies themselves or the International Rugby Board.
To the idea of sides getting involved in club-run events that lack official sanction, the rugby authorities in Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Italy said no, no, no, no — issuing statements around the same time, each of them saying much the same thing, that they were unprepared to tolerate breakaways.
It leaves European rugby in a mess, with English and French clubs intent on setting up the Rugby Champions Cup, which they see as replacing the Heineken Cup.
Officialdom had been slow to react, but the blazers have finally woken up to the seriousness of what's being proposed, with a series of statements this week effectively drawing a line in the sand.
The French Rugby Federation were the first to say wouldn't support the Rugby Champions Cup and IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset has made clear his view that a new competition should be union-run rather than club-led.
Now the Pro12 unions have declared their hand, albeit predictably.
A statement from the WRU ran: "The Welsh Rugby Union remains fully committed to the development of a pan-European Rugby competition. We welcome the recent comments made by the International Rugby Board chairman, who confirmed that a pan-European tournament remains the goal of the IRB.
"The Welsh Rugby Union wishes to clarify that it will not grant permission for any of its clubs or regions to participate in future tournaments which do not have the full approval of the IRB and the WRU.
"The WRU wants an agreement to be achieved and reiterates its determination to negotiate a new format for the European Cup with all of the stakeholders.
"The WRU's focus is to work collaboratively with our colleagues across Europe, encouraging all parties to conclude our negotiations as quickly as possible."
The Scots, Irish and Italian unions all issued near-identical statements.
Only the RFU are sitting on their hands, with their situation complicated by their hosting a World Cup in two years' time. A war with their own clubs would be the last thing Twickenham would want in the build-up to the global showpiece. But, buoyed by a £152 million agreement with BT Sport, the English clubs are determined to push ahead with the Rugby Champions Cup, believing it has the potential to put professional rugby in the northern hemisphere on a different plane — though they and the French clubs would benefit significantly more than anyone else who chose to get into bed with them.
Nonetheless, the financial plight of the Ospreys, Scarlets, Blues and Dragons is well-documented and it was reported last weekend that two regions have explored what's on offer.
Whether they would have the stomach for going down the rebel road remains to be seen.
They would have union money withdrawn and any players involved might find themselves out in the cold come selection for official IRB tournaments, including the World Cup.
Nothing less than the future of professional rugby is being fought over.
In the north, the unions fear that the sums involved could see the club game usurping its international counterpart as the key driver of the sport.
In the south, the governing bodies are worried English and French clubs richer by an estimated £1 million each a year will launch more and more raids for leading players.
The row was initially over revenue distribution, qualification for the main European tournament and its size.
But the cash dimension has increasingly come to dominate the battleground.