French dig in as rugby row intensifies

The French Rugby Federation is on a collision course with clubs from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 as the dispute over the future of the Heineken Cup continued to escalate.

Just hours after Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty declared he expects Celtic and Italian teams to join the ‘Rugby Champions Cup’, the French Rugby Federation responded with a strongly-worded statement backing European Rugby Cup.

Approval from the Rugby Football Union, FFR and International Rugby Union is required if the Anglo-French breakaway is to go ahead and any teams from the RaboDirect Pro12 participating will need the same support from their unions.

But on the eve of the launch in Paris of potentially the final Heineken Cup, the FFR released a statement indicating that approval would not be forthcoming from it.

“No meeting or international competition involving French clubs can be organised outside the framework of the FFR and without its prior agreement,” the statement read.

“The FFR has always been and will remain a major player in the European cups organised by ERC and backs proposals to permit the continuity and development of these.”

“If the FFR is in favour of an improvement in the European cups, their organisation can only be envisaged under the edict of the European federations which make up ERC.

“The statement released by the clubs appears therefore irrelevant and inappropriate.”

European Rugby Cup appeared to be in full retreat earlier in the day as its appointment of an independent mediator was met with a statement of Anglo-French intent.

The gravity of the situation facing ERC was confirmed when McCafferty stated that sides from the Pro12 have been in contact over the possibility of joining the breakaway.

Premiership Rugby, in conjunction with its French equivalent Ligue Nationale de Rugby, plans to finalise the structural detail of the Rugby Champions Cup when it knows who will be involved.

Meanwhile, Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton has admitted the frustrations of trying to negotiate a new contract with the IRFU last season left him in tears on the eve of the 2013 Six Nations.

Sexton ultimately rejected the Irish governing body’s final offer following five months of negotiations that ended in late January. The Dubliner left Leinster in May having signed a lucrative two-year contract with French Top 14 club Racing Metro, for whom he scored his first try on Saturday night in a 26-19 won over Bordeaux-Begles.

Sexton makes the revelation in his new book, Becoming A Lion, extracts of which were published yesterday and which should make for sober reading at Irish rugby headquarters with current deals for Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip, amongst others, set to expire next summer.

Sexton writes that the IRFU’s negotiating strategy over his next contract “pisses me off”, having opened talks with what he and agent Fintan Drury felt was an insulting offer.

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox