Defiant English clubs explore Heineken Cup replacement

ENGLISH rugby clubs are exploring the feasibility of forming an intercontinental competition with their South African counterparts, after unanimously reiterating they will not take part in the Heineken Cup or Amlin Challenge Cup from next season.

Following yesterday’s meeting between representatives of all top-flight clubs, plus Leeds and Bristol, Premiership rugby confirmed it is now “pursuing other options” as an alternative to entering competitions governed by European Rugby Cup.

The move comes after its initial breakaway plan, the Rugby Champions Cup, hit the buffers when the French rugby union withdrew their support, following a similar move by Pro12 clubs competing in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.

A statement from Premiership rugby said: “Having served notice in June 2012, they [English clubs] will not participate in any competitions run by ERC from the 2014-15 season.

“ERC does not structurally recognise the role of the leagues and clubs in driving the success of club competitions, under the overall governance of unions.

“The ERC voting structure is controlled by unions. Proposals put forward to address a new structure within a Rugby Champions Cup were agreed by a majority of the unions in October, alongside meritocratic competition formats and equitable financial distributions. However, these have not been accepted by all.

“The English clubs have worked exhaustively over the last 18 months to propose solutions to the issues with the current European competitions and to provide a sustainable platform to grow the game in the various countries. The English clubs are now pursuing other options.”

The decision to give notice to the ERC was made due to concerns over qualification criteria and the distribution of revenue.

The Heineken Cup, now in its 20th year, will be cut from 24 to 20 teams next season, with plans for revenue to be split equally between the Premiership, France’s Top 14 and the Pro 12, should all leagues be represented.

Talks over potential alternative competitions, which also include expanding the Premiership, are active, though it is understood no deadline is in place for a final decision and there are no imminent meetings currently scheduled.