English clubs confirm exit from Heineken Cup
Dec. 06, 2013
LONDON (AP) — England's best players will go into their home Rugby World Cup in 2015 without a season of high-level European club action.
The Premiership clubs confirmed they will boycott the Heineken Cup next season, not wanting to have anything to do with cup organizers European Rugby Cup, which is guided by national unions. They also boycotted the 1998-99 event.
Premiership Rugby gave notice to the ERC 18 months ago that it was pulling out of the Heineken Cup after this season because it didn't like the financial, qualification and competition structure. The English and French Top 14 backed plans for clubs to own more control in a new competition next season called the Rugby Champions Cup, until the French clubs backpedalled last week under pressure from the French Rugby Federation.
The English agreed late Thursday not to compete in any tournaments run by ERC from next season, and look at options to fill their nine free weekends.
They want an alternative competition in place quickly, and a permanent rather temporary solution, Premiership Rugby chief executive Mike McCafferty said on Friday. Thanks to a massive broadcasting deal with BT Sport, the English clubs can afford options.
"The clubs are financially in a better position next season than they are for 2013-14 season because of our domestic TV deal and other uplifts in revenue we have in place," McCafferty said. "Financially, 2014-15 has never been an issue. The clubs don't have to focus on short-term solutions, they want a solution for the longer term."
High on the list of options is an Anglo-Welsh competition.
The four Welsh regions are in dispute with the Welsh union over their future. The WRU, which backs the ERC, has told the regions to commit to next season's Heineken Cup and Celtic League by the end of the year.
But the regions, who supported the Champions Cup, are dissatisfied with the WRU's funding and advice, and the uncertainty over competition next season. They are also unhappy with the WRU's inability to stop a player drain.
Five Wales internationals already play in France, with at least two more British Lions on their way next season, Jonathan Davies and Ian Evans. Lions hooker Richard Hibbard is set to join Gloucester, and Rhys Priestland and Bradley Davies have also reportedly agreed to move to Wasps. Added bad news for Wales is that English clubs are less inclined than French clubs to release players for international duty.
"The apathy within the game in Wales to do anything about it is shocking, it's absolutely shocking," said Nigel Davies, the former Wales center who is the director of rugby at Gloucester. "I would have thought that the powers-that-be will be looking at (an Anglo-Welsh competition) for obvious reasons."
McCafferty said the Welsh regions have expressed some interest in joining forces.
"As one or two Premiership stakeholders have commented, there is a natural attraction there from a commercial, sporting and history point of view, but all options have their challenges," he said.