Simon Halliday, who is stepping down from his role with European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) after nearly six and a half years, has overseen the assimilation of the South African provinces into next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
He sees a Club World Cup as the next logical step, with the tournament taking place every four years. Japanese rugby chiefs have already signalled their interest in such a competition.
Halliday has hailed a new eight-year deal to guarantee the future of the Heineken Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup but sees the former tournament going global on a quadrennial basis. Precious little detail was revealed about the format of the Club World Cup and there was no mention of a potential start date.
“From this new agreement, we are now working on the participation of the South African provinces and building towards a Club World Cup every four years which would replace the latter stages of the Heineken Champions Cup,” said Halliday in a statement issued by EPCR.
“Together with our improved formats, reduced pool matches and more knockout rugby, EPCR is in a great position to grow. Our newly formed Board is superbly well-equipped and structured to deliver on this growth and I wish them every success.”
The four big South African sides - the Sharks, the Lions, the Bulls and the Stormers - have linked up with the Pro14 clubs this season in the new United Rugby Championship and are eligible to qualify for next season’s ‘European’ club competitions through the URC.
Speaking earlier this year, Osamu Ota, the chairman of the Japanese Top League, signalled his interest in a global club tournament.
“If the club world championship can be held that is a very good thing for us,” Ota told the rugby website Stuff. “If some of the Japanese clubs can make it that is a positive for us, so I’m expecting the club world championship will be held in the near future.”
Halliday still sees a robust future for the European tournaments, adding: “EPCR has signed a new eight-year agreement which I believe is a triumph of negotiation and shared objectives between the leagues and unions of Europe. This will guarantee the long-term future of both the Heineken Champions Cup and the EPCR Challenge Cup. At the same time, this will create clarity for the international and club calendar.”
Rugby administrators have long aimed to streamline seasons across the northern and southern hemispheres, but negotiations have rumbled on without success.
Halliday is stepping down as chairman of EPCR after serving two terms in the role. Administration and finance director Anthony Lepage will step in as interim chief executive while EPCR appoint both a new chairman and chief executive.
“My term as chairman of EPCR has naturally come to an end after nearly six-and-a-half years and I admit to a degree of sadness, but also excitement,” said Halliday.
“As I depart the scene of the best club rugby tournaments in the world, I know that it will become even better over the next number of years.”