As the latest instalment of the now embarrassingly drawn out soap opera overshadowing European rugby plays out, Take The Three thought we’d have a look at the ongoing saga and, in case you’d given up bothering to keep track, bring you back up to speed.
The latest ‘statement’ has seen the IRB reinforce its stance that it will only support a tournament run by the various countries’ Unions, confirming “it will not support any cross border competitions that are not approved by the Unions of any participating clubs”.
Which, much like the previous ‘discussions’ that have taken place, brings us no closer to knowing how exactly the new equivalent of the Heineken Cup will pan out. In fact, the turmoil surrounding European rugby has been ongoing for over 18 months now, so put the kettle on – actually, better to pour yourself a very stiff drink – sit back and recap on the mayhem of the last year and a half.
Back track to June 2012: Premiership Rugby and the Top 14 (governed by the Ligue Nationale de Rugby) announced their intention to withdraw from the Heineken Cup when the contract expired at the end of the 2013-2014 season.
Why? Their first argument was that it was unfair for the Rabo Pro12 League to supply 10 of the HCup contenders – including automatic qualification for the two Scottish and Italian teams and three of each of the four Welsh and Irish teams – whereas PremRugby and the Top 14 supply only six teams each.
Secondly, it boils down to money. They were unhappy that around half of the HCup’s revenue goes to the Rabo, with the rest split between England and France.
The argument can naturally lean either way – the English and French Unions have enough money already and the governing body (European Rugby Cup) should be looking to champion the growth of the smaller rugby nations… But then England and France provide more teams than the other nations so require greater funding… Does it detract from the quality of the tournament to see minnow sides from Italy regularly being thumped by 60 points or should we allow them the chance to compete for their development?
Either way the ERC stalled, unwilling to acquiesce, and PremRugby and LNR proposed a new Rugby Champions Cup [yeah shit name we know, especially given the existence of the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship], inviting clubs from the other nations to take part. But the French have since backtracked, saying they would compete in a new ERC-run competition, but only if the English sides participated.
Meanwhile the broadcasters weighed in. BT Sport, whilst in a sports-broadcasting-rights-buying frame of mind, signed a £150million deal with PremRugby to show the mooted Champions Cup but BSkyB confusingly also extended its contract with the ERC to show rugby for another four years.
As it stands, the Scottish, Irish and Italian Unions have all agreed on their teams playing in a newly formatted European tournament featuring 20 teams – providing it has the backing of the IRB – whereby only seven teams will qualify from the Rabo (still with six from each of PremRugby and Top14) and the remaining 20th slot filled by a playoff between the seventh-placed English and French clubs. The revenue would also be split three ways across the clubs.
The trouble comes between the countries’ clubs and unions. After the LNR initially agreed the Champions Cup deal with PremRugby, the French rugby union (FFR) then threatened to sanction its clubs if they take part in a tournament that’s not run by the ERC.
Last week also saw the the Welsh Rugby Union agreeing to participate in European rugby but the Welsh regions not extending their contract due to the WRU’s inability to outline the tournament in which the regions’ will participate – and the regions’ resulting remunerations.
An Anglo-Welsh tournament has been suggested has been suggest as another possibility. Thoughts are this additional funding would stall the exodus of Welsh players to France, hence we come back to the latest debacle, where the WRU is ‘acting in the best interests of its regions, but the regions’ interests are different
On the flipside, PremRugby remain in limbo, saying they won’t play in a tournament run by the ERC – they want “a fresh start” and the RFU is seeking to switch the control of the Heineken Cup to the 6 Nations Committee.
Lost? Yeah TTT too – basically the situation is about as clear as mud. TTT gives up and is pouring another (even stiffer) drink.