It looks increasingly as though there will be two rival European rugby club tournaments next season, with both sides in the increasingly bitter dispute firmly digging their heels in.
The row over the future of cross-border competition has escalated following a meeting last week where the French, Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh unions agreed to fight for the status quo and reject the plans being drawn up by a group of rebels.
The proposal to replace the current Heineken Cup with the Rugby Champions Cup came from English and French clubs that wanted greater autonomy when it came to the allocation of revenue.
But the unions object to the idea, which would involve the clubs making the commercial decisions such as sponsorship and TV rights with the unions left to carry out the more mundane tasks such as appointing referees.
The Irish, Scottish and Welsh unions believe particularly strongly that they should retain control over the club tournaments instead of letting the clubs take charge, and they have the support of their French and Italian counterparts, too.
After the meeting in Dublin, they issued a joint statement. It said: “All five unions believe that it is critical to the interests of the game in Europe that the unions are at the heart of governance of cross-border club competitions.
“Cross-border club competitions must not conflict with the development of the sport in Europe by unions – this being in the best interest of players, spectators and the sport in general.”
The support of the French union was particularly notable. There was a feeling that it might back the new plans but French Federation president Pierre Camou has now thrown his weight behind the existing competitions rather than siding with his country’s Top 14 clubs.
It has been reported that Camou has offered the French clubs more than £1.5m each if they participate in the existing Heineken Cup (and second-tier Amlin Cup) rather than breaking away, and French rugby newspaper Midi Olympique claims that Toulon and Biarritz are among those that have come back on board with the status quo.
But it is not all sweetness and light between the unions.
The English RFU was not invited to last week’s summit in Dublin, something it said it found surprising and disappointing, and that has cemented the view of Premiership Rugby – the body that represents England’s leading clubs – that its rebel proposals have momentum.
Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, insisted that it was full steam ahead.
“We are meeting the French clubs again to sort out details about our cup, such as a logo, and they are fully committed to the Rugby Champions Cup,” he said.
“They have made it clear that they will not play in a European tournament that does not involve the English clubs and it may well be that there are two European tournaments next season.”
He added: “We don’t see any evidence of their support wavering.”
Regarding the Welsh regions, which have also backed the Rugby Champions Cup against the wishes of their union, McCafferty said: “We hope they stay with us, and the revenues for them would certainly be greater.”
The affair also shines the spotlight on the ongoing battle between Sky Sports and BT Sports over television rights. The Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups – with or without the rebels – will stick with their Sky deal while the new Rugby Champions’ Cup, if it goes ahead, will be broadcast by BT.
With Sky having recently lost its Champions League football rights and BT keen to show it is here to stay, the battle for the future of European club rugby is becoming as much a proxy war for the broadcasters as a battle between the clubs and the federations.
The clash over the future of club rugby has shades of how the football Premier League in England has taken shape over the past 20 years or so.
What started as the FA Premiership in 1992 is now the Premier League and is run by the clubs, not the Football Association. The unions do not want to lose control of the tournaments in the way that the FA no longer controls top-flight football.
According to the Telegraph, there is a private acceptance by most of the unions that they might have to push ahead with a tournament that does not include the English clubs in order to maintain the existing structure.
Give in to the English clubs now, in other words, and the rugby unions will have lost the battle for good.
There is some merit in that plan, because whatever the rights and wrongs of each point of view, one thing seems certain – if control passes to the clubs, it’s unlikely to switch back again.
So what lessons can be learnt from disputes elsewhere in the past?
Historically, splits such as this do not end well. Darts has not been helped over the years by the existence of two world championships, and the bad feeling within the world of cricket following Kerry Packer’s breakaway plans in the 1970s took years to go away.
And this is where comparisons between the current situation with rugby and the birth of football’s Premier League differ.
With top-flight football, there had been talk in the 1980s of the Big Five (Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs) jumping ship and sorting out their own television deal.
But when the split from the Football League eventually came, in 1992, it was more an administrative change than an organisational one.
Yes, there was a standalone television deal with Sky and the money began to flow into the top flight like never before, but it was effectively the old First Division with another name.
The league structure remained the same and membership of the Premiership was open to all league teams via the traditional method of promotion. (Despite the stereotype of the Premier League being home only to the elite, half the 92 clubs in the top four divisions today have been in the top flight since the Premiership began.)
What rugby faces is very different. While the seeds of the dispute might have echoes of the football world in the mid-1980s, we are getting perilously close to a situation where two rival structures end up going head to head – something that never happened with football.
As it stands at the moment, there is no truce in sight and neither side shows signs of giving in.
Unless they can come to some sort of agreement, rugby will be the real loser – and all at a time when the focus should be on the positive story of the World Cup coming to our shores in two years’ time.