ENGLISH teams could be frozen out of top-flight European club rugby next season after five of Europe’s six main rugby unions backed plans for the European Rugby Cup to continue.
Five unions - Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French and Italian - say they stand “side by side” in driving a European club competition next season under the auspices of the ERC following talks in Dublin on Thursday.
They released a statement to that effect, but there is no indication at this stage of the standpoints of French clubs and Welsh regions, who have already announced they want to be with England’s 12 Aviva Premiership clubs in a new Rugby Champions’ Cup next term.
20 teams ‘no matter what countries play’
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation for the leading English clubs, has consistently said it no longer recognises ERC and will not participate in competitions under its jurisdiction
In their statement, the five unions - minus the Rugby Football Union - said they had agreed the following.
“A European club competition is to take place during the 2014/2015 season following an optimised sporting and economic format with 20 teams, no matter how many countries are involved.
“The competition will be driven by the existing organisation (currently named ERC) which will remain in charge of the centralised sale and management of all commercial rights, amongst other things.
“Discussions over governance will be pursued in order to optimise the internal functioning of the existing organisation (currently named ERC).
“The common aim is to move eventually towards the integration of European competitions within an all-encompassing European rugby framework.”
Champions Cup plan
The comments are unlikely to set alarm bells ringing at Premiership Rugby, though.
They announced plans for a Rugby Champions Cup in September, a joint enterprise by the Premiership clubs and France’s Top 14 under the Ligue Nationale du Rugby banner.
The four Welsh regions - Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets - subsequently announced that they wanted to join the Anglo-French model.
There is no indication in the unions’ statement tonight which clubs would participate in a union-run European competition.
The unions’ statement continued: “All five unions believe that it is critical to the interests of the game in Europe that the unions are at the heart of the governance of cross-border club competitions, given that rugby in each country is organised in a pyramidical structure.
“Clubs, provinces and regional organisations form an integral part of the development of the game throughout this structure, from grassroots to the international game.
“Cross-border club competitions must not conflict with the development of the sport in Europe by unions, this being in the best interest of players, spectators and the sport in general.”
There has so far been no response from Premiership Rugby, LNR or the Welsh regions.