English and French wait on Celtic clubs’ call – for now

Frank Dalleres
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But plans put in place should they have to go it alone

ENGLISH and French clubs are refusing to set their Celtic counterparts an ultimatum to join a breakaway competition but have already started planning next season’s European club rugby without them.

Premiership and Top14 chiefs have ruled out taking part in a tournament under the management of European Rugby Cup, which runs the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, even if it accepts all of their demands.

They will not attend this week’s meeting in Dublin, which the ERC had hoped could broker a compromise, even appointing Canadian barrister Graham Mew to mediate the negotiations.

English and French teams remain hopeful that Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian sides will sign up to their proposed Rugby Champions Cup, but have begun plans for an Anglo-French competition as a contingency.

“The result we want is a pan-European competition but if nothing happens we have to have something,” a spokesman for Premiership Rugby told City A.M.

The cross-Channel alliance has told Celtic clubs that they will receive the same amount of money from the Rugby Champions Cup as they currently do from the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup.

However the split of revenue would change markedly from the current format, in which the Pro12 clubs get 52 per cent of revenue and the Premiership and Top14 24 per cent each. The proposed change would see each group receiving a third of central funds.

The tournament format would also change from the two-tier Heineken-Amlin set-up to a three-tier operation, with four teams dropped from the top competition and the third tier being made up of developing nations.

There is an acceptance that each of the big six nations needs a representative in the top tier, but the number of automatic qualifiers from the Pro12 would fall to three or four, plus two others depending on the distribution among countries.

Live coverage of the Rugby Champions Cup would be broadcast in Britain by BT Sport, which took up the rights when it paid £152m for exclusive rights to the Premiership from 2013 to 2017.

A sponsor has not been announced but reports in France last week suggested that Guinness had been approached as a possible backer.

The International Rugby Board has warned it could veto the Rugby Champions Cup if it does not have full support of all individual unions.

England’s Rugby Football Union has kept tight-lipped, while France’s FFR has declared its opposition.

Premiership chiefs believe Celtic clubs want to join the rebels but are being held back by their unions.

Heineken Cup holders Toulon have threatened to boycott the breakaway if Top14 chiefs pursue plans to limit the number of overseas players in the French league.


Rugby Champions Cup
COMPOSITION: Two tiers of 20 teams plus a third tier comprised of developing nations. Current system is 24 teams in Heineken and 20 in Amlin

CASH: Equal three-way split between Premiership, Top14 and Pro12 sides. Current rules see Pro12 teams get 52 per cent, with the rest split between English and French