New twists in Euro merry-go-round
French Top 14 clubs confirmed their intention to stay loyal to next season's European Cup with the proviso that English clubs also competed in the competition
French Top 14 clubs confirmed their intention to stay loyal to next season's European Cup with the proviso that English clubs also competed in the European Rugby Cup-run competition.
The future of the flagship European tournament had been thrown into doubt when English and French sides drew up plans to launch a rival Rugby Champions Cup from the 2014/2015 season.
But last week the national unions of France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales said they would be stick with the European Cup in its existing format -- leaving the English Premiership out on a limb.
Thursday's latest twist came after talks between Top 14 club presidents at a hotel at Orly Airport near Paris.
The French National Rugby League (LNR), in a statement after the 'Orly summit', made plain they were still in favour of the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup, but only from the 2015-16 season.
"Given the amount of work that has to be done to set up the new format from the 2015-16 season the notion of a period of transition of one year...is a valid one," the LNR explained.
The French federation said the new format would group together the best teams from the six competing countries with the new financial structure which is at the heart of the rift.
LNR president Paul Goze added: "French clubs can get involved in competitions run by the ERC (in 2014-15) on condition that all the deals are signed and that the competition will be staged with clubs from England."
He said the format that would be set up from 2015-16 was based on "an association of federations similar to the one that exists in football" (with reference to European football's governing body UEFA).
England's Premiership Rugby (PRL), which represents the country's 12 leading clubs, had been vehement in its opposition to having anything more to do with ERC-run tournaments.
But a breakaway competition without French clubs is all but inconceivable and, with the prospect of no English teams playing in Europe for the first time since the 1998/99 season now on the horizon, PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty softened his stance in response to Thursday's developments.
"If somebody can outline what that transition would entail, how the issues would be overcome and exactly what the new structure in 2015-16 would be, then we could look at it," McCafferty told Britain's Press Association.
"If we can see there is a new structure to replace ERC and we have the detail of that, then something might be feasible. At the moment it's all very general and difficult to comment on."
The European rugby landscape was shaken to its core two months ago with the joint French and English announcement of the creation of their proposed breakaway competition.
Welsh regions subsequently joined forces with their English and French counterparts, claiming they wished to be a part of the rival circuit.
But the ground shifted considerably last week when the unions of France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales said they would remain faithful to the ERC's European Cup for next season.
Part of the desire to shake up the existing competition stems from the complaint by English and French clubs 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.
The dispute has also been complicated by a row over broadcast rights.
Premiership Rugby have signed a television deal with BT Vision worth £152million (€178 million, US$246 million), with £52million of that earmarked for European competitions.
But ERC insist they will stand by current broadcast partners Sky, with a contract agreed until 201