English, French clubs want new Euro competitions
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — English and French sides threw European club rugby into chaos on Tuesday by declaring their intention to set up two breakaway continental competitions starting next season.
The leading rugby clubs from England and France have been demanding a revamp to the structure of the top-tier Heineken Cup for some time because they are unhappy at sides from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy getting guaranteed spots in the competition. A row over TV rights in Britain left Europe’s marquee competition on an even more precarious footing.
Talks have been ongoing with European Rugby Cup, which organizes the Heineken Cup and the second-tier Challenge Cup, for the past two years but no solution has been reached.
“Discussions have been unsuccessful and the clubs can only conclude that negotiations on any new European agreement have now ended,” Premiership Rugby — the umbrella body representing England’s top-flight clubs — said in a statement released Tuesday.
“The English and French clubs have proposed the formation of two new, stronger competitions of 20 teams each, based on the principles of qualification on merit from each league, the inclusion of teams from all six existing countries and the expansion into new markets. These proposals could form the basis of future competitions.”
The new competitions will contain English and French clubs, Premiership Rugby added, but “will also be open to teams from other countries.”
ERC said in its own statement that there was a “shared sense of frustration” at the continuing impasse between the competing bodies, but hopes an ERC board meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Dublin “will provide an opportunity for the parties to review the consultation process to date.”
The equivalent of football’s Champions League, the Heineken Cup has been running since the 1995/96 season and has expanded into a popular 24-team competition featuring the top teams from the Six Nations countries.
Its current deal runs through to the end of this season and clubs from England and France indicated in June last year that they intended to end their involvement in the competition unless a new agreement that suited them was reached.
They are unhappy that while English and French clubs have to qualify for the Heineken Cup through placings in their domestic leagues, the top teams from Italy and Scotland automatically qualify, as do three of four teams from Wales and Ireland who compete in the Pro12 league.
The ERC and the clubs of the Pro12 have given little indication of conceding ground.