IRB steps into Heineken Cup row

The International Rugby Board has stepped into the Heineken Cup row in a last-ditch bid to salvage the future of top-class European club rugby.

IRB is hoping to broker a final solution to the European wrangles. Picture: Jane Barlow

It is understood that the IRB is ready to summon all six top unions and relevant club bodies to a summit meeting to broker a final solution to the European wrangles.

No meetings have yet been scheduled, but the IRB issued a statement late last night, formally entering the European dispute for the first time.

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Concerned at the lack of a “common solution”, the IRB pledged to fight for the “establishment of a truly representative pan-European rugby competition that fully complies with IRB regulations”.

The IRB now hopes to bring an end to the impasse that was sparked by the English and French clubs giving notice in June 2012 they would not sign a new agreement with Heineken Cup organisers European Rugby Cup (ERC), when the current tournament contract expires in summer 2014.

IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “In order to reach an outcome that is in the best interests of rugby globally, the IRB will work actively with its unions towards the goal of achieving a unified and acceptable outcome for all stakeholders involved.”

England’s RFU and Premiership Rugby (PRL) both threw their weight behind the IRB intervention, building fresh hope for a resolution.

The IRB did reiterate that the world game’s governing body cannot support any cross-border competition unsanctioned by relevant domestic unions. That severely reduces the likelihood of a new Anglo-Welsh league, one of the counter proposals from Premiership Rugby if there is no full European contest next season.

But PRL reasserted their own commitment to a full Europe-wide resolution. A Premiership Rugby spokesman said: “Over the last 18 months we have repeatedly made several different proposals for a pan-European rugby competition. These have even included a third-tier competition for developing nations, all of which benefit the whole of European club rugby.

“The clubs clearly understand any cross-border competition must be put before the unions.”

The English and French clubs want to chance the distribution of tournament revenue, and are pushing their TV rights deal with BT Sport, while ERC believes that Sky holds broadcasting control beyond 2014.

It is understood revenue wrangles can be resolved by a three-way split between English, French and Celtic clubs.

Tournament governance remains a sticking point, with PRL and the French clubs keen to see the RBS Six Nations organisers assume control of the top European competition. Dublin-based ERC oppose that and it is thought the Irish provinces are still with them.

RFU chairman Bill Beaumont said: “Our primary focus should be to maintain a genuinely pan-European tournament. I am working closely with RFU CEO Ian Ritchie and other stakeholders to find a solution. I welcome the support of the IRB and, of course as a member union, abide by and support the IRB regulations.”