English and French clubs unveil 'Champions Cup'
September 22, 2013
Will the Rugby Champions Cup replace the Heineken Cup as the premier club competition in Europe? © Getty Images
The battle to shape the European club rugby landscape has intensified with the English and French clubs announcing that their proposed alternative to the Heineken Cup will be called the Rugby Champions Cup.
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing the leading English clubs, and their French counterparts, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby, confirmed earlier this month that they plan to form a new cross-border competition for the 2014-15 season having failed to negotiate a re-vamp of the Heineken Cup.
Frustrated at a lack of progress in their efforts to force changes to the structure, qualification criteria and distribution of revenue and angered by a perceived reluctance on the part of the Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh sides to embrace change, the English and French clubs have also declared they are no longer interested in dealing with European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
The ERC management board is dominated by representatives from those unions that compete in the existing tournaments and the English and French leagues are determined to see that power switch to the clubs although any new cross-border competition requires the approval of the respective unions and the International Rugby Board.
ERC has scheduled a fresh round of negotiations for October 23 and more recently announced the appointment of an independent mediator but this latest move suggests the English and French clubs are determined to push on with their own plans. However, they insist the Rugby Champions Cup will be open to teams from all three leagues in Europe - the Premiership, the Top 14 and the PRO12 - and Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty insists they have already been approached by other sides.
A statement from Premiership Rugby revealed that the competition will "be based on the principles of qualification on merit, a strong competition format, equality between the leagues, higher commercial values for the teams and expansion into new European markets."
The Top 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs have already confirmed their participation in the new competition and a joint working group has been created to prepare all necessary elements in good time for next season. Further details concerning the competition format, marketing and financial aspects of the Rugby Champions Cup will be released in October.
"Before we can release more details we need to know over the next few weeks which other teams will be joining the competition," McCafferty told PA Sport. "We expect those discussions to continue over the next few weeks. Once we know the final, or close to final, numbers then we settle on the competition formats.
"Various people have approached us about the possibility of joining and we've indicated to them that we'll keep their names confidential. We've heard that other people want to be involved in European competitions, that's why we've left the door open and expect it to be more than an Anglo-French competition.
"Once people saw on September 10 that we would seek an alternative, interest has been expressed in at least knowing exactly what will be involved - the format, commercial and financial details as well."
McCafferty is also confident of securing Rugby Football Union backing and hinted that Premiership Rugby would pursue the matter legally if its approval was not forthcoming. "We're asking for the RFU's support against the background that there will be no ERC competition in which we're taking part at the end of the season. We need to put in place new competitions," McCafferty said.
"We ultimately expect to have RFU support and it's in the interests of English rugby to have the teams playing in a good competition at the end of the season. If that scenario occurs where the RFU oppose what we're doing, we'd have to look at the reasons for opposing it.
"You can't just from a legal point of view say 'we don't want it so we're not going to approve it', especially when there's a conflict of interests. We'll try to overcome the issues and then take it from there. We're asking for support. We'd expect that support."
McCafferty revealed the proposed Rugby Champions Cup would be overseen by an "organising body of some sort - it doesn't need to be as big, unwieldy or institutionalised as ERC" and has reiterated the club's reluctance to deal with the current organisers.
"We have said all along we will not be in an ERC-run competition after this season," he told The Rugby Paper. "We can only say that so many times."
In terms of a timelines for a further announcement, McCafferty added: "We have a period of four-to-six weeks in terms of who's in and who's not. This is not intended as a deadline but we would need to know by November otherwise the goalposts are shifting around."
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