The French title challengers, Agen, who had the brass neck to mount a double appeal against their suspension from European rugby following a game-throwing scandal, will definitely be prevented from competing in next season's Heineken Cup. The board of European Rugby Cup Ltd discussed the club's latest appeal at a meeting in Dublin yesterday before confirming that a one-year ban imposed earlier this year would remain in place.
Jean-Pierre Lux, the chairman of the ERC and one of two French delegates on the board, supported Agen's attempt to have the suspension quashed: "I would find it an obstacle to the competition if the champion club of France was unable to take part in the European Cup," he said. But Agen, who overcame Toulouse in last weekend's domestic semi-final and are widely expected to beat Biarritz in this Saturday's showpiece in Paris, drew little support from the other directors.
This latest move came as a direct result of Agen's success in reaching the final, and the 2002-03 Heineken tournament is certain to be the weaker for their absence. Any reinstatement would have left ERC open to allegations of crooked dealing and exposed them to the threat of legal action from Béziers, who would have been squeezed out of the competition despite beating Stade Français to the sixth and last French qualifying place.
The draw will take place next week, once the English seedings are confirmed following Saturday's Zurich Championship final between Bristol and Gloucester, and the Irish Rugby Football Union decide the pecking order of their three entrants: Leinster, Munster and Ulster. Bristol, London Irish, Sale, Béziers and the new Italian champions, Viadana will make their debuts.
Meanwhile, the French club Begles-Bordeaux are chasing the services of Mike Catt, the Bath and England midfielder who has not played international rugby since the win over South Africa last November.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies