The French, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian rugby unions have agreed to press ahead with the Heineken Cup next season, under the auspices of the ERC, with or without involvement from the English clubs.
Representatives from the unions – the English RFU was conspicuous by its absence – met in Dublin today and to begin the process of drawing up plans for a Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup without the English, if their clubs continue to insist on forming a breakaway competition of their own.
When representatives of the six respective founding Unions and Federations of the Heineken Cup conceded to the demands of the English and French clubs at ERC mediation talks on October 24th in Dublin regarding a 20-team tournament format, meritocratic qualification and funding for the Heineken Cup, it was widely perceived as a climbdown.
However, the compromises on all of the above came with a hardening of resolve amongst the Unions and Federations that there would be no climbdown on governance of the game and specifically a pan-European tournament. In this they have been backed by the IRB President Bernard Lapasset and a joint statement released this evening insisted they would not be backing down.
“All five Unions believe that it is critical to the interests of the game in Europe that the Unions are at the heart of the governance of cross-border club competitions given that rugby in each country is organised in a pyramidical structure,” the Unions said.
“Clubs, provinces and regional organisations form an integral part of the development of the game throughout this structure, from grassroots to the international game. Cross-border club competitions must not conflict with the development of the sport in Europe by Unions, this being in the best interest of players, spectators and the sport in general.”
The statement lays out four key points agreed in the talks, namely
* A European club competition is to take place during the 2014/2015 season following an optimized sporting and economic format with 20 teams, no matter how many countries are involved.
* The competition will be driven by the existing organisation (currently named ERC) which will remain in charge of the centralised sale and management of all commercial rights, amongst other things.
* Discussions over governance will be pursued in order to optimise the internal functioning of the existing organization (currently named ERC).
* The common aim is to move eventually towards the integration of European competitions within all-encompassing European rugby framework.
Today’s talks followed a meeting between representatives of the French Federation (FFR) and Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) last week where discussions regarding a new accord for player release, television rights and so forth took place.
The FFR President Pierre Camou apparently began the meeting by warning the LNR that no new accord will be agreed until such time as the clubs cease talking about joining the Rugby Champions Cup – the breakaway tournament proposed by Premiership Rugby (PRL) – and resolve the future of European competitions.
Under French government law, the French clubs cannot join a cross-border competition without the approval of the FFR and IRB, and Camou’s stance has been consistent from the word go.