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ERC faces tough challenge to convince English and French clubs to remain in European competitions

13th September 2013

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Premiership Rugby and its French counterpart, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), on Tuesday night announced a shocking move to move away from both European club competitions that left the survival of next season contests in doubt.

In a combined move, the Anglo-French leagues announced that from the 2014-15 season their clubs will not be participating in the Heineken Cup or the Amlin Challenge Cup, but would instead take part in a new competition, having served a notice that they would leave the current ERC tournaments in June last year.

Importantly, the English and French club have left the door open for other teams to join the new competition and virtually closed the door on any return to the European Rugby Cup, which has triggered an angry reaction from the Italian and Celtic clubs who met in Dublin yesterday.

The principal demands of the English and French clubs have been to make significant changes to the Heineken Cup, including an equal three-way split in revenue between the three leagues and changes to the qualification process resulting in a reduction in the number of teams from 24 to 20; six from the Premiership, six from the Top 14 and Six from the RaboDirect Pro 12, who currently have 10 guaranteed entrants per season, plus the winners of the two European tournaments.

Why are the Premiership and French Top 14 so enthusiastic to make these changes? They believe that their counterparts from the other four nations have an unfair advantage in Europe. The teams of the Pro12 have no threat of relegation, allowing teams to rest players for league matches and, as a result, keep them fresh for European fixtures. In addition, the two Scottish sides, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the two Italian sides, Treviso and Zebre, are guaranteed a Heineken Cup place.

Another reason is thought to be the figures of money that clubs will earn from creating a new tournament. It is believed that the new investment from BT Sport, who are understood to be televising the new competition. The combining television deals for both English and French clubs alone could see the worth of the competition rise from £10 million to £30 million per season.

Are we then seeing a complete overhaul of European club rugby? In truth, it’s hard to tell. Negotiations are yet to be concluded. Despite the surprising move and the anger generated, there are signs of a late willingness to negotiate in order to preserve both of the European cups. The ERC still believe the tournament can be saved. On their website, they stated yesterday that “despite recent reports, all parties involved in the formulation of a new ERC Accord, including the LNR and Premiership Rugby, have reaffirmed their commitment to the process”.

It seems that for now that negotiations will continue, but the move by the Premiership and LNR will certainly lead to a change in European club rugby, whether it be an overhaul of the current Heineken Cup or the creation of an all new competition.


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