A rugby franchise from Georgia or another emerging rugby nation could one day play in the European Champions Cup, according to European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) chief executive Vincent Gaillard.
As part of a commitment to growing the profile of both sport and tournament, EPCR also plan on restarting negotiations next season over an annual intercontinental match between the European champions and the winners of the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby tournament.
Ahead of this weekend’s European Champions Cup semi-finals, Gaillard told City A.M. that the tournament was emerging out of a “transition phase” that followed the dissolution of the Heineken Cup.
EPCR, which suffered low attendances in last year’s Champions Cup semi-finals, recently rebranded the Challenge Cup qualifying competition as the Continental Shield tournament for growing nations such as Georgia where crowds reach 50,000 for national team games.
In a similar manner to Super Rugby’s embrace of franchises from Japan and Argentina in 2015, a franchise from a new rugby nation - whose clubs can now qualify for the Challenge Cup through the Continental Shield - could play in Europe’s elite.
“There will likely be an acceptable of franchises [in the future], Georgia could be an example,” Gaillard told City A.M.
“We want to provide a platform for teams from all these emerging markets to show their rugby.”
EPCR will also look to engage with southern hemisphere governing body Sanzar next year as part of plans to set up an annual match between the Super Rugby and Champions Cup winners — similar to the World Club Challenge in rugby league.
“Our commitment to doing it still exists, it’s still there,” said Gaillard.
“But we’ve decided to wait until the global season calendar debates are settled before we reactivate these discussions.
“From next season we should be able to reactivate negotiations with Sanzar. I cannot say that they are definitely interested. I did not get that impression when we discussed with them a year or so ago — they had just hired a new CEO [sic] who had other things to worry about.”