There are massive changes afoot in the world of Rugby Union. While there has been some agreement recently as to the future of the sport, there are still many obstacles to overcome.
Following an 18-month impasse, the six unions involved in the Heineken Cup (England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Italy and France) held a two-day summit in Dublin to decide how a European club competition would work next season. The English and French clubs have stated that they intend to form a breakaway competition next season.
The conclusion of the summit was that the Anglo-French alliance was met halfway, with unions agreeing on the formation of two altered competitions of 20 teams each as well as a change in distribution of any revenue. Money will now be split equally between the three leagues that provide teams for each competition (English Premiership, France’s Top 14 and the Pro12). As an aside, if all this talk of rugby has got you itching for some action, check out the latest rugby odds by following the link.
However, top English and French clubs were not present at the summit. Premiership Rugby in England (PRL) and Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) in France will attempt to form the alternative Rugby Champions Cup, instead of competing in the Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup. This plan has been backed by the four Welsh regions.
Essentially, the rift has come from the PRL and LNR’s dissatisfaction with the current qualification process for the Heineken Cup and how proceeds are shared. Under the current system, only the top six English and French clubs have a guaranteed place in the cup whereas both Scottish teams, both Italian teams and three teams each from Ireland and Wales (members of the Pro12 league) all get automatic qualification.
As well as the revenue changes, the summit decided that only 7 Pro 12 teams would qualify for the Heineken Cup. Despite these concessions, Mark McCafferty, chief executive of the PRL, said that there was no chance of a recapitulation on the decision to form a breakaway competition: “We have always said that there is no way we are going into any competitions that are run by ERC after the end of this season.
That hasn’t changed.” And he was hopeful that the recent changes would lead to even greater revolution in the sport: “Hopefully, it is a sign that in due course the whole approach we’ve been proposing is bought into. I guess time will tell.”
There is still some way to go, however, if this is to happen. The television deals with Sky and BT as well as the instance on the part of the Anglo-French alliance that clubs run competitions instead of unions will be potential stumbling blocks.
It is yet unclear as to how the two new 20-team competitions will be run and the PRL and LNR are yet to be consulted on the proposals.
Their proposed Champions Cup is still very much in the ‘development’ stage with details to be announced in a month’s time. More meeting are planned for the near future but, whatever happens, McCafferty is not backing down.