x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

English and French rugby union clubs break away

Clubs from the English Premiership and French Top 14 competitions unhappy about European Cup organisers over European Cup format.

The 2012/13 European Cup final was played between Toulon and Clermont, both French clubs. Franck Fife / AFP
The 2012/13 European Cup final was played between Toulon and Clermont, both French clubs. Franck Fife / AFP

English and French clubs announced a rival to the European Cup on Sunday, called the Rugby Champions Cup.

Clubs from the English Premiership and French Top 14 competitions had been threatening for months to create a breakaway competition if ERC – the European Cup organisers – failed to find a solution to their concerns over the current competition’s format.

In a statement released on Sunday, the clubs said they had asked their respective leagues to take the necessary measures to create the new competition for next season.

The new competition will be open to Celtic League teams as well.

“The announcements by Premiership Rugby and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby [LNR] on 10th September confirmed that the Top 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs had instructed their leagues to put in place a new competition in time for the 2014/15 season,” said the joint statement from English and French clubs.

“It is now confirmed that the competition will be named the Rugby Champions Cup.

“The competition will be based on the principles of qualification on merit, a strong competition format, equality between the leagues, higher commercial values for the teams and expansion into new European markets.

“The Top 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs have already confirmed their participation in the new competition and a joint working group has been created to prepare all necessary elements in good time for the 2014/15 season.”

English and French clubs have long grumbled that Celtic League teams have an unfair advantage in European competition as most of them are guaranteed entry, whereas Premiership and Top 14 teams have to fight hard just to qualify.

It means Celtic League teams can rest players ahead of big European games, safe in the knowledge that they are not compromising their participation for the next season, whereas English and French clubs face weekly domestic battles.

Only the top six in England and France are guaranteed a place in the European Cup, whereas at least 10 Celtic League sides – including both Scottish, both Italians and a minimum of three each from Wales and Ireland – have a free pass into the competition.

This season, of the 12 Celtic League sides, only Newport Gwent Dragons missed out on the top and most lucrative club competition.

It means that the secondary Challenge Cup is virtually an Anglo-French affair, with a few weaker teams from other European countries included, but they are usually out of their depth, even when playing second string line-ups from the Premiership or Top 14.

As well as seeing a fairer distribution of places between the three major European Leagues, English and French clubs also wanted a reduction in the number of teams participating in the European Cup from 24 to 20.

All these measures were rejected by Celtic League teams and the ERC, leading to an impasse that resulted in the English and French taking the drastic breakaway measure.

English clubs were the first to announce they would be pulling out of the European Cup next season, with French teams saying later they would only play in a competition that included the English.

Jean-Pierre Lux, the ERC president, accused the English and French of using “guerilla tactics” earlier this week, but that did not serve to soften their stance, leading to Sunday’s announcement.

sports@thenational.ae