Rugby unions make concessions in bid for compromise
But agreement on 20-team format is prelude to bigger stumbling blocks on governance and televsion coverage
Two days of ERC mediation talks regarding the future of the Heineken Cup, or an alternative pan-European tournament, have concluded with the Celtic and Italian Unions offering concessions to the Anglo-French club alliance.
In particular, they are willing to compromise on the latter’s primary demands for two 20-team rather than 24-team team competitions, comprised essentially of an even split between the three leagues, with qualification largely based on merit.
A statement issued on behalf of independent mediators appointed by the ERC, Graeme Mew and Stephen Drymer, revealed there was a “consensus among those present on two key principles of competition format and distribution of revenues, and with agreement to meet again very shortly.”
One rather large caveat, of course, was the non-attendance at the two-day talks of any representatives from Premiership Rugby, the Top 14 or the Welsh regions, who on Tuesday announced their to partake in the Anglo-French proposed breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.
Yet while they were not there in body, they assuredly were in spirit, all the more so as Ian Ritchie, the RFU chief executive who has been acting as an unofficial mediator for the last few weeks, would have been in a position to relay the Anglo-French views and now provide them with feedback from these mediation talks.
The other caveat is that while these concessions go a long way to meeting the demands of the French and English clubs regarding tournament format, bigger issues remain, namely who will broadcast the tournament(s) and who will be the organisers.
Perhaps significantly, yesterday’s statement contained no mention of either the Heineken Cup or the ERC. In that light, the consensus amongst the attendant representatives of the Irish, Welsh, Scottish, Italian, French and English unions is determinedly non-antagonistic.
Those present agreed “the primary competition would be made up of 20 clubs, with six each from PRL [England’s Premiership Rugby Ltd] and the LNR [French La Ligue Nationale du Rugby], and seven from the Pro12 tournament. The clubs would come through meritocratic qualification from their respective leagues. In the case of the Pro12, there will be at least one club guaranteed from each country.”
Based on recent seasons, the Italians and Scots are effectively agreeing to halving their representation in such a pan-European tournament. Stipulating a seventh qualifier from the Rabo Pro12 League – which the FFR and RFU have now agreed to – was critical.
This would have meant the top seven all qualifying by right from last season’s Pro12. Were their numbers restricted to six by dint of finishing sixth in the league last season, Munster would not have qualified for the primary European tournament, as Treviso were the highest Italians in seventh.
It would, though, strengthen the proposed “Secondary Competition”, which “would consist of up to 20 clubs made up of the remaining 18 PRL, LNR and Pro12 clubs.”
A consensus was also reached on revenues, which “would be divided one third, one third, one third per league with the stipulation that monies to be received by the Pro12 countries would not be less than the current levels.”