In an email sent at the beginning of last week, the president of the League René Bouscatel asked his peers for a lenient welcome to the new formula of the European cups. It hasn’t really been heard…
It’s Tuesday evening, shortly after the EPCR (the body managing the European Cups) formalizes the entry of five South African provinces (Pretoria Bulls, Cape Stormers, Durban Sharks, Cheetahs de Bloemfontein and Johannesburg Lions) in the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, next season, that the president of the National Rugby League René Bouscatel wrote an email to his peers.
Throughout his missive, the boss of bosses calls on his peers to publicly highlight the benefits inherent in the birth of this competition which, in his view, will strengthen “sports intensity” professional rugby. “The arrival of the South African teams is an important development for the EPCR competitions which will reinforce the sporting intensity of the competitions, writes the former president of Stade Toulouse. During this moment of announcement, I am counting on you to comment positively and promote this arrival to the media, which comes at a time when the EPCR is in renegotiation with broadcasters on the French, British and international markets. In this commercially decisive period and after this successful 2022 final phase which has given a very good image of the two competitions after the vicissitudes of the last few months, it is essential that we all be in support of the EPCR to create a positive climate around this advert.”
Chavancy: “Just the idea of seeing the Stormers European champions…”
So what ? Did René Bouscatel’s missive land in the “junk mail” section of club presidents? Still, the recommendations of the boss of bosses have not really been followed by the actors of the Top 14 and in recent days, the president of La Rochelle Vincent Merling opened the ball thus: “I am not at all in favor of the arrival of South Africa in the European championship. […] We are totally in the loss of identity.”
The vast majority of pro rugby presidents have never opposed the arrival of the South African provinces in the Champions Cup, however, when they were consulted on this subject by the caciques of the League or the EPCR, two institutions which will bear the travel expenses of the teams, 12,000 kilometers separating South Africa from France. Despite the sporting interest of such an evolution, Henry Chavancy, the captain of the Racingmen, always seems austere: “Just the idea of telling me that the Stormers can be European champions I find that a bit… how to choose my words… amazing, a bit special. I think we have a great competition and I understand that d other countries or clubs want to join it but I think that this also risks distorting the interest or at least the history of this competition a little bit.
“Pierre Mignoni, the manager of Lou, supported: “We are in the business world, not in that of the European Cup”. When Olivier Azam, the MHR forwards coach, raised the collateral damage linked to an overloaded schedule: “I don’t see what it’s going to bring us apart from a more difficult calendar to manage. And that’s not necessarily what we should aim for a year before the World Cup where we want to prepare our internationals as well as possible.” Are they all wrong? And will we succumb to this new formula, once the tournament has started? We’ll know a little more in the fall…