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Battle lines drawn as English and French clubs hit out at World Rugby plans

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Premiership rugby has joined the Ligue Nationale de Rugby to criticise World Rugby’s plans.
 Premiership rugby has joined the Ligue Nationale de Rugby to criticise World Rugby’s plans. Photograph: Rogan/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

The leading French and English professional clubs have hinted at legal action if World Rugby proceeds with its proposed plan to restructure the international game. Major unions and the international players’ union are meeting in Dublin this week to discuss a new Nations Championship concept but club representatives have not been invited.

In a joint statement Premiership Rugby and its French counterpart, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), said the clubs believe the latest World Rugby proposal runs contrary to what was agreed under the terms of the supposedly long-term agreement the various stakeholders signed in San Francisco two years ago.

The agreement was supposed to cement the international calendar until 2032 but the Nations Championship would now involve an increased number of Tests in November and early December. The clubs say that expanding the current Test programme “had been specifically rejected for established annual international competitions” and “challenges the balance” between club and Test rugby.

Premiership Rugby and the LNR are also upset at not being involved in the latest discussions. “The professional leagues now seem to be excluded from this new work, even though the World Rugby project would be a major change to the San Francisco agreement for all elements of the professional game and impact other competitions,” the statement read. “LNR and PRL regret the fact that World Rugby is not fully involving all stakeholders in seeking a consensus and can only reserve the option to take any action to preserve their rights and competitions.”

World Rugby insists a majority of teams would play fewer Tests under the proposed new structure, which officials believe will lend fresh impetus to the existing international calendar. World Rugby’s executive committee and professional game committee will also be joined in Dublin this week by the chairmen and chief executives of all leading nations “to consider and discuss a way forward that is in the best interest of the whole game”.

A World Rugby spokesman added: “Change is always difficult and nobody expected complex multi-stakeholder discussions to be simple. For a sport to grow and thrive, however, it must explore ways to innovate and evolve.”

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