Ritchie eyes European compromise
Ian Ritchie has called for open-minded discussions "with a view to compromise on both sides" over the future of top-flight European club rugby.
Premiership Rugby and their French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby served notice last year of their desire to quit the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup when the existing tournament accord expires next summer.
They want changes to the structure of both continental competitions, principally over the number of teams involved, the qualifying process and how funds are distributed.
And disillusioned by what they view as a lack of progress during negotiations for a fresh competition agreement, they announced earlier this week plans for a new Anglo-French tournament next term.
Premiership Rugby met with Ritchie and other senior RFU figures on Wednesday night.
Any new competition would require approval from the RFU and French Rugby Federation as respective governing bodies.
"In what are complex and passionate on-going negotiations concerning the future of the European competitions, the RFU is encouraging talks to continue in earnest," chief executive Ritchie said.
"We are, and always have been, supportive of the Premiership clubs seeking greater meritocracy across the competitions and appropriate financial distribution.
"It is also important to ensure that rugby across Europe continues to thrive and grow.
"In terms of authorising any future competition, it is critical to see all the confirmed details before being able to assess its merits.
"In order to find a successful conclusion, we are urging discussions to be held with an open mind, with a view to compromise on both sides.
"We will continue to work with urgency behind closed doors to ensure a consensus is reached that will benefit all parties."
Leicester executive director and Premiership Rugby's board member at ERC Peter Wheeler, meanwhile, is puzzled by the contents of a statement released by ERC on Wednesday.
ERC suggested that during a meeting of directors in Dublin a common ground had been established with the English and French clubs over the Heineken Cup's future.
Among the attendees were Wheeler, representative of the Premiership clubs, and his counterpart at the LNR Rene Bouscatel.
The ERC statement was headlined "all parties reaffirm commitment to ERC negotiations", but Wheeler left Ireland with a different perspective on the talks.
"In support of the personal statement made yesterday by Rene Bouscatel, I too was surprised by the press statement issued after the meeting on September 11 of the board of ERC, of which I am a member," Wheeler said.
"I would make the following points about the content of this statement.
"No decision was made by the ERC board to reiterate that European club rugby competitions must necessarily be organised by ERC.
"Secondly, concerning the proposal of some of this board to organise a meeting of the stakeholders, it is the sole right of the individual parties (unions and league organisations) to take a view on any such proposal."
The comments by Wheeler and Bouscatel drew a swift response from ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux and chief executive Derek McGrath, who confirmed plans for a mediator to be appointed as part of the negotiations.
"Together, we confirm that it was agreed at last Wednesday's board meeting in Dublin, that ERC, as a signatory to the current accord, should be involved in all future negotiations aimed at the formulation of a new accord for the 2014-15 season and beyond," Lux and McGrath said, in a joint statement.
"To that end, the board requested that ERC should convene the next, and future, meetings, and that it should consider the appointment of a mediator to move the negotiations forward towards a successful resolution. This process is now under way.
"The board further agreed that bearing in mind the commitments the company has already entered into, no other structure other than ERC would be appropriate to organise European tournaments going forward.
"We believe it is now time for ERC's shareholders to cease public ultimatums and to enter into genuine and decisive negotiations aimed at strengthening European club rugby."