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Monday, April 23, 2007
A REBEL "Super 14" style breakaway by many of Europe’s top clubs is on the cards.
Southern hemisphere reports yesterday claim that leading franchises in Ireland, England and France are in talks with broadcaster Setanta Sports to set up what will effectively be a European version of the Super 14.
If the deal comes off, leading clubs in Europe will become even richer and will be operating outside the auspices of the International Rugby Board.
Clubs such as Toulouse, Wasps, Leicester and Biarritz would have the ability to offer stars such as Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw €1 million a year.
Fears are already mounting that unless the clubs can be persuaded to remain aligned with the IRB, the 2011 World Cup will be reduced to a sham tournament where none of the best players are made available.
New Zealand has already felt the increasing spending power of the European clubs in recent months with Carl Hayman, Aaron Mauger, Chris Jack and Byron Kelleher all signing to play offshore after the World Cup this year. Other big southern hemisphere names could follow, with Luke McAlister and Stephen Larkham being coveted by French clubs. At 23, McAlister is also considering heading to Toulouse, and Sitiveni Sivivatu and Nick Evans have both been linked with Agen.
Concern is growing in New Zealand at the proposed breakaway. NZRU deputy chief executive Steve Tew said: "We are watching developments with considerable interest and are hopeful that both parties can find a solution."
All Black coach Graham Henry has warned NZ fans they should expect a mass exodus of New Zealand players after the Rugby World Cup.
"I think ‘Joe Bloggs’ doesn’t understand the pressure the players are under," said Henry.
"There are huge expectations on these guys. They play 12 or 13 tests a season and they play big Super 14 games — it is big games all the time.
"Not so long ago a guy might take six or seven years to win 35 caps. Now he can do that in three or four years.
"These guys are committed to the All Black jersey but some take the view they need to get out from under the microscope. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the nature of the beast."
But Henry is confident any breakaway competition will be ultimately doomed. "We have seen in the past, with other sports, that when people try to get away from the establishment they have major issues with quality.
"History shows these breakaways have not worked. The game cannot be split."
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