Premiership Rugby: "There will be no turning back"
September 12, 2013
Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith insists there must be change to the European club rugby landscape © Getty Images
Premiership Rugby has vowed to push on with their plans for a new European tournament despite hopes that an agreement on the future of the Heineken Cup can be thrashed out.
The future of Europe's premier club competition has been shrouded in doubt since last year when Premiership Rugby, representing the leading English clubs, and their French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby served notice to leave at the end of this season in a bid to force through changes to the qualification criteria, structure and the distribution of revenue.
The Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh clubs have so far resisted the calls for radical change and are understood to favour retaining the current set-up but Premiership Rugby turned up the heat on their partners by declaring that "negotiations on any new European agreement have now ended" and revealing that they planned to organise an Anglo-French tournament for the 2014-15 season.
European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and second tier Amlin Challenge Cup, responded by insisting that "all parties remain committed to finding a compromise" over the coming months but Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith believes they have "filibustered and procrastinated" over the last year and insists the English and French clubs will continue with their plans for a new competition.
"The Aviva Premiership rugby clubs along with our Top 14 colleagues are taking the lead rather than being led by others by affirming that we will start an Anglo-French competition in the 2014-15 season," he wrote in The Daily Telegraph
"It is crucial to point out that competition is open to teams from the other four nations. Let us see who comes. I would be amazed if no one else joins us. We will then see what they bring to the party and then work out the competition structure and how the revenues will be distributed.
"If countries or teams do not join us and there is a cup among themselves, that is fine. But we and the French have served notice on the ERC Accord, the contract that brings us all together, and there will be no turning back."
Smith also detailed his organisation's motives and in an apparent bid to retain the support of the Rugby Football Union - one of the six constituent Unions of the ERC - insists he is seeking change that will benefit the game as a whole.
"We need to make sure our clubs and players have cross-border competitions of integrity and value so that whether it is Geoff Parling, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell or George Ford - they are in competition against teams that will contain players who they might meet on the international stage," he said. "We want a dynamic tournament that is of benefit to the English game.
"Second, we must do something of commercial value to the clubs for their welfare and sustainability. Most of our clubs are losing money.
He added: "All we are seeking is a competition that is fairly and competitive structured - both in terms of qualification and seeding - and equal distribution of the revenue. The ERC is controlled by the unions and yet it is really the French and English clubs in their numbers that give it real value in terms of viewing public, wider broadcasting and sponsors.
"So we have been bold. We have put a stake in the ground with the French. Instead of shilly-shallying, we have said: 'OK everybody, someone is going to have to move on this otherwise we will have another seven months of wafting.'"
Premiership Rugby's hardline stance has also been echoed by their French counterparts. "There is no threat not to participate in the European Cup, we will not participate," LNR president Paul Goze told Rugby365.fr. "The decision was taken not to play the competition in the current configuration."
On the subject of the proposed re-vamp of the existing competition he said: "Our model puts everyone on an equal footing. The presidents of the Top 14 all gave us their approval."
Any new tournament has to be sanctioned by the unions and International Rugby Board but Goze is also confident that the clubs will dictate the future. "The IRB will not oppose this new competition, the clubs are masters of the situation," he said. "I think that there is no alternative."
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