If the Heineken Cup's beleaguered administrators thought they were strengthening the position of their ailing tournament by insisting that negotiations between the warring factions were still alive, and suggesting that the top-flight clubs in England and France might pull back from a breakaway by accepting arbitration, they have been rudely disabused.
The clubs were even more militant late last week than they had been at the start, when they confirmed their intention to set up an Anglo-French competition in time for next season.
Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, stated categorically last night that the leading English teams had no intention of playing in any tournament run by European Rugby Cup, the Heineken Cup organising body, after the conclusion of this season's event.
"I don't know how many more ways there are to say this," he commented. "Our discussions with ERC are at an end. We are committed to setting up a new tournament with our colleagues in France, although as we've always indicated, we'd be more than happy if teams from other nations joined us."
Across the Channel, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby chairman Paul Goze was even more determined to drive the message home.
"We're not threatening not to participate in the European Cup - we're saying we will not participate," he stated. "We asked for a revision of the format of the Heineken Cup and some financial redistribution and did everything possible to change things, but without success.
"Nobody can prevent us from establishing a new competition. The presidents of our Top 14 clubs have all given us their approval. The English are on the same wavelength."
The ERC board, which includes Peter Wheeler of Leicester, said on Wednesday that "all parties" had reaffirmed their commitment to continuing discussions on a new European accord, but the English clubs question the accuracy of that assertion. Indeed, it is no longer certain that either Wheeler or the Toulouse president Rene Bouscatel will attend another meeting.
- The Independent