There are many who thought it would never be possible for England and France to combine and work together to form an Anglo French rugby competition, but it looks like these arch enemies may well have pulled it off.
Overnight Welsh clubs the Cardiff Blues, Scarlets, Ospreys and Newport-Gwent Dragons, via their umbrella organisation, Regional Rugby Wales, released a statement pledging their “full support” to the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup.
This is not good news for the board of the European Rugby Cup who were about to meet in Dublin. The European Rugby Cup (ERC) are the organizers of the Heineken Cup – which now looks as if it will be played for for the last time this year, – and the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup. The E.R.C. had hoped the talks, with an appointed mediator, Canada’s Graeme Mew would pave the way to save Europe’s premier club competition, but that looks unlikely now.
The E.R.C. is made up of representatives from the English, French, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian rugby unions. It also has representatives from Premiership Rugby, the organisation that governs England’s 12 Premiership clubs, as well as from the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, the organizers of the French Top 14.
Last month when they announced the formation of the Rugby Champions Cup, Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby said that they would not be attending the talks in Dublin.
The French, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italian unions have said that they support an E.R.C.-run competition. Thereby keeping control with the various national unions. France opting for this model has left the French Union at odds with the clubs it supposedly represents. England meanwhile are keeping their cards close to their chest.
One key component is that all teams competing will need the blessing of their home unions to be part of such a European competition.
The English and French clubs have said that they would go it alone if they have to, but that their preference is for the Rugby Champions Cup to be a 20-team European tournament. This would be four fewer teams than the current Heineken Cup. They have also stressed that they want qualification for the Rugby Champions Cup to be decided on merit. The 20 teams to be made up of the top six sides from the Premiership, the French Top 14 and the RaboDirect Pro 12, which is a league involving teams from Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The are advocating just one guaranteed entrant per country from the Pro 12 competition. The present format sees Italy and Scotland guaranteed two places each, while Wales and Ireland are guaranteed three each. The last two places they would like to be given to the sides that finished highest in the standings the previous season; something that a few people are none to sure about. Many believe that it should simply be the top teams in the Pro 12 who qualify irrespective of the country they represent, so that the new competition is made up of the best of the best.
After all is it fair if a the league season goes down to the last game and two Scottish or Welsh teams are vying for the title, not only is the losing team pipped but they also face being excluded from the competition?
Money is not surprisingly also a key component and the English and French want the revenue to be split equally among the all the Premiership, Top 14 and Pro 12 sides. At the moment the Pro 12 sides only get a 52 percent share of the revenue, while the stronger English and French leagues receive 24 percent each. This would be better for the game as a whole as it would help Scottish and Italian rugby improve and become more competitive.
There are still many hurdles to get over such as the Television rights as Premiership rugby signed a deal just last year with BT Vision and there are still obligations to Sky sports.
If the home nations do not back the new league then they will be forced to ban players from those clubs who opt to play in the breakaway league, but that could impact heavily on the national team’s performance and the likelihood of selling out venues such as Twickenham. There is no doubt if there will be plenty for the ERC to discuss.