Big two outline European league

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The Independent Online
A European competition involving clubs from the home countries, France and possibly Italy was brought closer yesterday when representatives of Leicester and Bath stated their case to the Rugby Football Union.

The confidential meeting took place in Cambridge after England Schools has played their French counterparts at Grange Road, with the clubs encouraged that their request for a debate had been so quickly agreed. Tony Hallett, secretary-elect of the RFU, has already expressed his interest in the proposal.

The RFU, represented yesterday by John Jeavons- Fellows, chairman of the competitions committee, and Dudley Wood, the secretary, objects to the launch of a competition next season because of its various contractual obligations, but there seems nothing to stop a start being made in 1996-97.

However, Bath and Leicester - as well as Cardiff, Swansea, Toulouse and Brive, who form the putative tournament's organising board - want to proceed this autumn and already have a tentative scheme to make it happen. The idea is for six other clubs - one each from England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy - to join them.

"We are very keen to get this under way," Tony Russ, the Leicester coaching director, said yesterday. "This is a competition which would not conflict in any way with any other competition. I would like it to be built into the programme on Saturdays to replace the Divisional Championship. This can't happen next season but I would very much like to see a prototype in place so that we can make a start."

Coincidentally, a press conference has been called in London next Wednesday by the marketing company which handles the Courage Clubs' Championship "to announce an important development in competitive European club rugby", though yesterday the firm said it had no connection with the Bath and Leicester proposals.

Russ, in Cambridge along with the Bath chairman, Richard Mauditt, said: "We must avoid going down the road of thinking the Courage Championship is the be-all and end-all of world rugby, otherwise we are going to be in the same situation as the Welsh.

"We need to expand our horizons. If the objection is overloading players with extra matches, that is an internal club problem and not the RFU's. There would be two extra fixtures or four at most if you get to the final."

Leicester and Bath have encountered difficulties with other clubs unhappy at the role of the First Division's leading two but they have the enthusiastic support of their own players. As John Quin, the Bath secretary, put it: "The players would like it straight away."

In addition, leading Welsh coaches, including Mike Ruddock of Swansea, wish to overcome the debilitating effect of their clubs' recent isolation. "Other countries have moved ahead in cross-border rugby, such as the southern- hemisphere Super 10," Ruddock, who is also one of Wales's World Cup coaches, said. "There's a market for it - and a requirement for it from our players. It will happen; it's a case of when not if."