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Dr Syd Miller (left) pictured here with IRB CEO Mike Miller
Inpho/Morgan Treacy
Miller Rounds On Blanco
4 April 2007, 3:03 pm
By Pat Geraghty
"It is unbelievable that one man should be allowed to bring European rugby to this state. We understand that not all clubs agree. Is there no-one among the clubs of France who has the courage to say no, we will not be part of this"? asks Dr Syd Millar in a statement issued Monday on behalf of the International Rugby Board.
The decision by the French and English clubs to withdraw from the European Rugby Cup has been described as regrettable, unfortunate and shameful. It is more than that. It is absolutely disgraceful and selfish to destroy a tournament which has developed into a hugely successful and special annual rugby event that is vital to the well being of European Rugby. It will have serious consequence for world rugby.

This decision is not about fixing match schedule congestion in France as was first suggested. Indeed it is difficult for the average Rugby supporter to understand why Serge Blanco has withdrawn the French clubs. The IRB made the concession of allowing the French rugby premiership (LNR) to play matches during Rugby World Cup to alleviate match congestion in the 2007/08 season.

He talks now for support for the English premiership clubs, he talks of respect.

What respect has he shown for those who have worked hard to develop this tournament into the excellent event that it has become? What respect is he showing for other European rugby nations who will suffer financial hardship with a direct consequence to player employment? What respect is there for the players who enjoy and want to play in the tournament? What respect is there for the supporters who have enjoyed the event and travelled in their tens of thousand throughout Europe in support of their teams therefore producing a great festival of rugby? What respect is he showing for the sponsors and media who have made their contribution to the tournament? None.

What respect has he shown for the French Rugby Federation and French rugby in a year that is hugely important for the game in France as it hosts the Rugby World Cup in September and October? He says he has no dispute with his own National Union but why is he interfering with the affairs of another Union?

It is unbelievable that one man should be allowed to bring European rugby to this state. We understand that not all clubs agree. Is there no-one among the clubs of France who has the courage to say no, we will not be part of this?

I have always had a great respect for Serge Blanco as a player and a person but in this instance I can only assume that he is being very badly advised or he is being naïve and has allowed himself to be used by certain people in England not just to destabilise ERC but to support a challenge to the way club rugby is governed through national unions and the International Rugby Board.

Remember this is not the first time the English clubs have sought to destroy the ERC as they removed themselves from the tournament in 1998/99. Some now suggest a new ERC Championship should be put in place. We don't need a new one. We have one. What next, a new 6 Nations run by the premiership clubs?

The premiership clubs in the main are owned by entrepreneurs who are not used to and do not like deferring to governing bodies such as the RFU. They do not want to have a governing body which controls the game for the good of all and not just for a handful of elite professional clubs. The most significant and illuminating statement as to the clubs' true intent came in a Sunday newspaper where Mr Barwell of the Northampton club was quoted as saying: "We'll run our own business and the RFU can mind their own business". What does he mean? Indeed it is difficult to get from the clubs what they want as their objectives seem to change regularly.

Strong clubs are an essential part of a healthy game. However, it is essential that a good relationship exists between Union and clubs. It is not too late for the Premiership clubs to reverse their decision and have the courage to do so and to show the rugby world at large that they are prepared to work within a system where their voice is heard and has been listened to.

The IRB is attempting to facilitate a solution and in this instance we still have time to get around the table to find a workable solution. To that effect the IRB will convene a meeting later this week with senior representatives from the European Unions involved in the ERC to determine precisely what needs to be done to ensure the future of the tournament. This meeting will follow the ERC's Shareholders and ERC's Board of Directors meetings in Dublin this week.

The Rugby Unions of the world will not allow 26 clubs to dictate the course of world Rugby and the present situation has brought those Unions even closer and more determined to preserve the game for the good of all. Rugby has progressed enormously over the past few years and will continue to grow under the guidance of the Unions and IRB who cater for the needs of all the Game's stakeholders.

The IRB has obligations to all of its stakeholders and envisages meetings with other senior Unions around the world to allay their fears on the direction professional rugby is taking in Europe due to the actions of the English and French clubs.

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