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RFU is determined to resolve pan-European competition crisis

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

By Duncan Bech

Ian Ritchie

Ian Ritchie

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The Rugby Football Union is confident European competition can be salvaged for next season with chief executive Ian Ritchie warning the alternative would be vastly inferior.

The future of the Heineken Cup is in grave doubt with England's clubs refusing to participate in a competition run by European Rugby Cup and actively pursuing the option of adding Welsh regions to an expanded Aviva Premiership.

Ritchie is optimistic that the obstacles preventing an agreement on a new tournament involving all six competing nations – framework, voting on commercial rights and broadcasting rights – can be overcome.

Unofficial talks between the RFU and the other five unions are taking place on a daily basis, with Twickenham officials ignoring the snub that resulted in exclusion from a key meeting in Dublin on November 21.

It was during those discussions last month that progress previously made in deciding on aspects such as format, financial distribution and notice terms were effectively torpedoed by the other unions.

Ritchie is convinced there is still a "deal to be done" as he seeks to prevent the disintegration of European rugby that would inevitably accompany the formation of an Anglo-Welsh league.

"We must understand the consequences of failure – they are not a good thing," Ritchie said.

"We are in a better place if we have a proper pan-European club competition. The alternatives are lesser to the ones we believe we should be working towards.

"All parties want to get a pan-European competition. I don't know of anyone who doesn't want that. Everyone wants it, the question is how we get there."

The key battleground in the dispute is ERC's involvement and should the RFU persuade its counterpart unions that it should be replaced, the main stumbling block to staging European competition next season will have been removed.

Ritchie also dismissed the suggestion the RFU is in thrall to Premiership clubs, pointing out that its agreement over the release of England players expires in 2016.

"It's essential for the good of the game that the RFU and PRL [Premiership Rugby Limited] have a good and strong relationship. That's absolutely the right thing to do," Ritchie said.

"We don't agree with everything, but the relationship is crucial and is in a pretty good place.

"This idea we're cowed in some way because we're worried about access to players for the World Cup is rubbish. It's nonsense."

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