Anglo-French clubs break free

Sun, 22 Sep 2013 12:10
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English and French clubs on Sunday announced the formation of a new competition called the Rugby Champions Cup for the 2014/15 season.

English and French clubs on Sunday announced the formation of a new competition called the Rugby Champions Cup for the 2014/15 season.

Anglo-French clubs have threatened to pull out of the European Cup if organisers ERC failed to find a solution to their concerns over the current competition's format.

On Sunday, it was confirmed that the plan has been set in motion with the clubs announcing they had asked their respective leagues to take the necessary measures to create the new competition for next season.

The Rugby Champions Cup will be open to teams from all three leagues in Europe, but not to any other international teams.

“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,” a joint statement from English and French clubs explained.

“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.

ERC president Jean-Pierre Lux 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.

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