Wed, Apr 04, 2007 - Page 19 News List

English rugby clubs vote to join French clubs' Euro boycott

AP , LONDON

English rugby clubs voted on Monday to withdraw from next season's Heineken Cup and European Challenge Cup if the French teams boycott the competition.

Premier Rugby, the organization for the 12 clubs involved in English rugby's domestic league, said it remained committed to a European competition involving all current participants.

"However, a European Cup without the leading French clubs is not a genuine European competition, and Premier Rugby's clubs have today agreed unanimously not to participate in any such competition without the French next season," Premier Rugby said in a statement.

The Heineken Cup, which began in 1995, is Europe's premier club rugby tournament. It features 24 teams from six countries -- France, England, Scotland, Wales, Italy and Ireland.

Growing demands

The spat has stemmed from the growing demands of international rugby and from English clubs seeking a greater voice in how the competition is run.

In January, French clubs said they would withdraw from both the Heineken Cup and the second tier European Challenge Cup to protect their domestic championship.

That likely will be shorter because of the World Cup hosted by France in September and October.

The competition organizers, European Rugby Cup Ltd, which is based in Ireland, distributes tournament revenue to the six national rugby unions, who divide the cash between teams.

England's Rugby Football Union does not give clubs a portion of its shares and voting rights in ERC, unlike the French and Italian unions.

"Premier Rugby has made, and stands by, its proposals to the Rugby Football Union which would provide significantly increased player release time for England and establish a platform for future international success which is vital for the whole game," Premier Rugby said in a statement.

Proposals

"As part of these proposals, Premier Rugby is seeking that their clubs have equal shares and votes with the RFU in a new five-year commitment to European competitions, to which the clubs have contributed so much success. Without this, the English clubs would otherwise be the only independent clubs not to have shares," it added.

On Sunday, three English teams advanced to the semi-finals for the first time -- Leicester Tigers, London Wasps and the Northampton Saints -- along with Welsh club Llanelli Scarlets. This season's final is May 20.

Between them, English and French clubs have won nine of the 11 Heineken Cup finals -- Toulouse (three times), Leicester (twice), Wasps, Northampton, Bath and Brive. Irish clubs Ulster (1999) and Munster (2006) are the only clubs other than the English and French to have won the title.

The French clubs are likely to decide this week if they will boycott the competition.

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