Scottish clubs open to Heineken Cup breakaway


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The Independent Online

The Celtic opposition to the bid by English and French clubs to redraw the map of European rugby may not be as solid as many of the hard-liners in the governing classes imagine. Mark Dodson, the chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, said that his organisation was "ruling nothing in and nothing out" – a comment that will be taken by some to be a clear signal that north of the border there is a willingness to embrace radical changes to the current Heineken Cup format.

"I think it's been wrongly portrayed that we have been maintaining a position," Dodson said, a week after a series of linked statements from the Irish, Welsh and Scottish unions declaring that their teams would not participate in any new tournament without the blessing of the International Rugby Board. "It's a high-stakes game for everyone, but we are not ruling anything in or anything out at this stage. We would be crazy to do that."

Dodson made his comments at the Scottish launch of this season's Heineken Cup, which the Anglo-French alliance insists will be the last. The 26 Premiership and Top 14 clubs who served notice of their intention to quit the tournament last year, are now just months away from acting on that notice and are busily planning a new competition that will operate on a cross-Channel basis. They say the 10 elite teams from the Celtic countries are welcome to join them and have extended that invitation to the two professional sides in Italy. They also say that if the invitation is rejected by some or all of those sides, they will go ahead anyway.

Interestingly, given that the broadcasting squabble between Sky Sports, which has exclusive rights to the Heineken Cup, and BT Sport, the newcomers who screen Premiership rugby, is at the heart of this dispute, players in the two Scottish teams, Edinburgh and Glasgow, will play this season's European games with the name of the latter emblazoned across their chests.

The Leicester outside-half Ryan Lamb must serve a one-week ban for his part in a brawl during a second-string game against Gloucester at Welford Road on Monday night. Lamb, who was sent off, admitted a charge of punching.