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European Trophy XVs cancelled - again

Rugby Europe’s European Trophy – the continent’s second level XVs tournament – has been cancelled for the second year in a row.

Happier times... when Switzerland last hosted in 2015

 

The Swiss Rugby Union were set to host the tournament in Geneva in October, with four teams - Russia, Switzerland, Finland, and Sweden - lined up to take part and promotion to next year’s European Championship on offer,

Unfortunately, Sweden pulled out in July and as a consequence Rugby Europe decided to cancel the entire tournament – matching their practice with men’s U20s when only three teams remained from a group of four. Sweden had assured the organisers of their commitment when teams were announced in January, but pulled out citing the cost of participating.

The cancellation has been a bitter blow for Switzerland and the Swiss rugby union. “We had put a considerable lot of time and effort into planning a well-organized and above all affordable tournament, including approaching sponsors and local institutions for funding and securing hotel rooms and pitches,” says Veronika Muhlofer, the union’s CEO and World Rugby council member, who has been working on the tournament for six months prior to Swedish decision.

Unfortunately, it now appears that Rugby Europe may have been hasty as the Czech Republic have expressed an interest, but with official recognition now withdrawn the tournament as planned cannot now go ahead.

The cancellation has also had an effect on funding - for example the Swiss test team has now had budget cuts for two years in a row. While it is understandable that a union may cut funding for teams with no tournaments it does seem to create a vicious spiral of funding reductions which must make future events even more difficult to organise, leading to even more reduced funds. It is, after all, pattern we have seen other parts of the world (the Elgon Cup in east Africa, for example) where, once a tournament is cancelled one year, it becomes harder and harder to revive it in future years.

Fortunately, despite the set-back, Veronika is not giving up. “We are currently working on putting together a series of test matches among the remaining teams akin to the men’s Rugby Europe Trophy which we have proposed to World Rugby for Test Match Status and which we will then propose to Rugby Europe for recognition as an official Trophy Level Competition,” she tells us.

“The first two test matches in this series will be Finland v Switzerland on Oct 13th near Helsinki and Switzerland v Czech Republic on November 17th in Yverdon, Switzerland, as a curtain raiser for the Switzerland-Czech Rep men’s Rugby Europe Trophy Match.”

But the “F” word comes back again. “Without any funding, these teams are traveling on a shoestring budget, largely self-funded or (as in the case of Switzerland) supported by their unions’ very tight budgets”, Veronika says.  

And that may be the stumbling block. To complete the round of games Finland must somehow, somewhere, play the Czechs – but that is a fixture that we know both countries have been trying to organise for at least a year… and have not been able to do so due to the cost. If it were an official European Trophy fixture (instead of just a friendly) perhaps more funds might be found, but if no game has been organised would the series gain that vital Rugby Europe recognition?

It is worth saying that these teams are all ranked in and around World Rugby’s top 20, and should be preparing for an attempt to qualify for the next World Cup. It’s certainly all a world away from discussions about professional contracts.

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In response to this annoucement Sweden coach Kevin Moggridge has said "It was going to cost Sweden around £40k for two games of rugby just not achievable. Sweden are going to play test matches against Holland - two tests with return fixtures next year. Both the RAF and the Army sides as well. And looking for other fixtures as well".