A senior figure in Irish rugby is claiming that none of their provinces will join the new tournament being planned by militant English and French clubs to replace the Heineken Cup in 2014, raising fears Ireland will pull out of the 2015 World Cup.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) admitted in the summer that they would be borrowing £21 million to fund the professional game over the next six years. If the Heineken Cup comes to an end this season at a loss of more than £4m annually to them and their provinces, they may be unable to meet the cost of entering Ireland into the global event in 2015.
The IRFU are looking to their counterparts in England, the Rugby Football Union, to block the Aviva Premiership clubs' bid to establish a new European tournament run through the leagues not the unions, but Premiership Rugby (PRL) say it will definitely go ahead with a breakaway next season with counterparts in France – and Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian teams in the Pro 12 welcome to join.
They will receive invitations this week. The English clubs' chief negotiator, Bruce Craig, the chairman-owner of Bath and PRL vice-chairman, who has been the go-between with Paul Goze and René Fontès of the French Top 14, is confident they will all accept.
The RFU have said publicly they are waiting for detail of the new competition before deciding whether to give it their blessing, which would be necessary under international rugby regulations.
But Peter Boyle, an IRFU representative on the Heineken Cup's organising company, European Rugby Cup (ERC), countered both the RFU stance and a report that three-times European champions Leinster might join the new competition.
Boyle said: "The RFU and French Rugby Federation have already confirmed that there will be no new company other than ERC to run European competitions. It is unequivocal that the negotiation of TV and other rights is central and it's done by ERC. The IRFU are bound into ERC and that restricts completely the movement of Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Connacht."
Boyle also fiercely rebutted PRL's claims of Celtic intransigence, saying that Ireland were prepared to give ground on the subject of meritocratic qualification and reducing the Heineken Cup from 24 teams to 20.
The Pro 12 teams would either have to break away from, or gain the approval of, their national unions – or the relevant regulations would need to be overturned in court. Also while PRL are promising a minimum £1.8m a season per team to participate in their new, two-tier competition, The Independent on Sunday understands one Welsh region would want a guarantee of £3m a season before even considering joining the new set-up.
ERC announced on Friday that a Canadian independent mediator, Graeme Mew, had been engaged to try and bring all the interested parties together.