English, French Clubs To Break Away From Heineken Cup, Launch Rugby Champions Cup
English and French rugby clubs "pressed on with plans for a breakaway from the Heineken Cup on Sunday with the announcement that their competition would be called the Rugby Champions Cup and open to Celtic and Italian clubs," according to Alan Baldwin of REUTERS. Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby said that it would be set up in time for the '14-15 season "and be open to teams from all three leagues in Europe." Premiership Rugby said that the Premiership and Top 14 clubs "have already confirmed their participation with a joint working group set up." The other European league is the Pro12 "and involves clubs from Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales" (REUTERS, 9/22).
A CUP OF THEIR OWN: In London, Duncan Bech wrote the announcement underlines Anglo-French determination to press ahead with their own version of the Heineken Cup, "which appears to be in its death throes given the determination to force change." It also "confirms their unwillingness to work under European Rugby Cup, the organisation that runs the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups and that appointed an independent mediator on Friday in an attempt to thrash out a new tournament agreement" (INDEPENDENT, 9/22). The London TELEGRAPH reported the ERC has scheduled the next round of negotiations for Oct. 23, "which has further antagonised English and French clubs who had initially demanded urgency in finding a resolution before losing patience and declaring they would forge their own path." Structural, qualification and financial changes are being sought by the Premiership and Top 14 teams, "whose bargaining position is strengthened by a lucrative television rights deal with BT Sport, although the detail of that remains unclear" (TELEGRAPH, 9/22).
ON THE FENCE: The BBC reported the Int'l Rugby Board said that it will only back the new pan-European club idea if the French and English rugby unions "approve it." Premiership Rugby Chair Quentin Smith said that "he does not expect them to stand in the clubs' way." Smith: "They are probably sitting on the fence at the moment and keeping an eye on what's happening. I can't see any reason why the unions wouldn't agree to, approve and support the initiative" (BBC, 9/22).