Welsh regions' European rugby conundrum
September 27, 2013
The future of the Heineken Cup is shrouded in uncertainty © Getty Images
The bleak future of Wales' regions has been laid bare by a report in the Welsh press which says that unless they are guaranteed entry into the Aviva Premiership, they are unlikely to be joining the new breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.
Both Premiership Rugby and Ligue Nationale de Rugby are showing no signs in budging over their plans to push forward with a club-run European tournament for next season. They have both served their respective notices to European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC) - the body in charge of the Heineken Cup - saying they will leave the competition at the end of the season due to misgivings over the qualification process and the distribution of revenue.
As things stand, clubs in the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 will be playing in the Champions Cup next season instead of the Heineken Cup and have offered the teams in the RaboDirect PRO12 the chance to join the breakaway competition.
However, such a tournament would need ratification from the International Rugby Board and teams from England, for example, would need permission from the Rugby Football Union to take part in the competition.
The four Unions that make up the PRO12 all issued near-identical statements on Thursday saying that unless the IRB approves the Champions Cup, their respective teams will not be taking part in the club-run tournament next season. Such an approval from the IRB seems unlikely at present with its chairman Bernard Lapasset saying earlier this week he favoured a Union-run competition.
That leaves the Welsh regions with a tough call. If they push ahead with joining the Champions Cup they will leave the PRO12 as they would have broken away from the WRU. Along with joining the Champions Cup they would seek to play in the Premiership next term but reports on Wales Online suggest the 12 teams currently running out in the English top flight are not yet ready to accommodate such an event.
With it seeming increasingly unlikely there will be a Heineken Cup next term, that would leave the Welsh regions with a deficit of £1.2m each - the money they receive from ERC - and just the LV=Cup and PRO12 to play in. You expect this would harm their prospects of keeping some of their top talent in the country amid reported interest from across the Channel.
And PRL CEO Mark McCafferty has issued a stark warning to the PRO12 sides regarding their participation in the Champions Cup. "No European competitions next season would be a financial catastrophe for Celtic rugby," McCafferty told the Guardian. "If the unions try to block the Rugby Champions Cup, they have to offer something else but there is no way we or the French clubs will be part of an organisation that is controlled by unions.
"All we are looking to do is maximise the value of European club rugby, not take over the game. We would work with the unions, ensuring everything fitted in around the international calendar, but we will no longer work for them. It will happen sooner or later and no one wants this to end up in court."
Saints CEO Allan Robson also echoed McCafferty's hopes that the PRO12 will join the Champions Cup, telling the BBC: "There's a massive chance [they will join]. Because that's what we want as well.
"I would like to think we'll have a European competition incorporating the sides that have been in the Heineken and Amlin Cups. But we do need them to agree. And if their unions are making the decision instead of the clubs and the regions, and I'm not saying they are, we need them to agree."
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