End of ERC running Heineken Cup looks inevitable

The Heineken Cup is hanging on and refusing to surrender but it seems the ERC will not be running any new competition.

The tournament has come under severe pressure in recent weeks after English and French clubs signalled their intention to leave the ERC run competition and form their own breakaway cup.

Welsh Club’s this week became the latest region to throw their name into the hat for the proposed new Championship, with their decision coming on the eve of a two day ERC meeting between the six representatives in Dublin.

That meeting concluded on Thursday with progress made on a number of issues relating to the future of European club rugby competition, the main principles being the competition format and distribution of revenues.

While no definitive conclusion was reached, all parties agreed to meet very shortly to discuss the key points.

The representatives did agree however that there should continue to be two professional European club rugby tournaments, with each tournament consisting of 20 clubs while a third tier European tournament is also going to be considered.

The Primary Competition, currently known as the Heineken Cup, would be made up of 20 clubs, with six each from PRL and the LNR, and seven from the Pro12 tournament. French and English clubs would earn their place in the competition through their league position while in the case of the Rabodirect there would be at least one club guaranteed from each country.

The representatives agreed in principle that in year one, the 20th place would be allocated through a play-off match between the 7th placed PRL and LNR clubs and the two next non-qualified Pro12 clubs. The winner of the secondary competition would qualify to participate in the play-offs, if not already qualified by right with English and French clubs getting home advantage in the play-offs against the Pro12 clubs.

The Secondary Competition would consist of up to 20 clubs made up of the remaining 18 PRL, LNR and Pro12 clubs. Two places could be allocated to clubs qualifying from a third competition.

The representatives also reached a consensus that distributable revenues generated through the competitions would be divided one third, one third, one third per league with the stipulation that monies to be received by the Pro12 countries would not be less than the current levels.

All parties concluded the meeting agreeing to meet again in the next 10 days, leading to many to believe that the Heineken Cup will continue.

In addition to the inroads made at the get-together, there are also a number of reasons to suggest that a break away tournament will not take place the most notable being the fact that the International Rugby Board won’t recognise the new competition.

With the IRB now on board, players would be reluctant to go play in an unratified competition and miss out on the possibility of playing for their country, especially as the IRB won’t allow players to go against their home associations.

Despite English and French being the driving forces being the requirement for change, their respective Unions are not on board with the French Rugby Union likely to prevent their players from taking part in a new competition while their English counterparts are believed to be at best lukewarm at the prospect of an upheaval of the competition.

The break-away competitions so far is being backed by the French Players Association and the Aviva Premiership, although they did receive backing from the Welsh clubs, a possible early move by the cash strapped regions, that could backfire, to muscle in and get an bigger share of the profits.

While the Heineken Cup an established part of the Sky Sports Rugby stable, the proposed Rugby Championship, rumoured to have Guinness as its main sponsor, hinges on possible sponsorship from BT Sports.

The newly formed Sporting network is in its infancy as a sporting channel and while they have so far poured a lot of money into their coverage there is also the possibility, remote as it may be, that they could suffer a Setanta Sports type implosion and any potential breakaway competition would require substantial assurances over their future prospects.

New version of the ERC will have to be set up as the present company is untenable. The English and French clubs will not work with them. So some new structure will have to be set up to appease the English and French.

While the ERC have plans to meet again to discuss the next stages the likelihood is that this will rumble on for the foreseeable future.


  1. I really do not get this. English and French teams gave notice of quitting the ERC competition two years ago. ERC were so complacent or arrogant that they did not try to thrash this out at that time. Instead they negotiated a new deal with Sky to televise the competition next year knowing that the English clubs had already given notice of quitting. ERC therefore seem to have had no mandate to agree a deal including the three leagues.

    And where were the Unions two years ago? Why leave it until now to intervene and force ERC to accept that the current arrangements are flawed. All clubs/regions should have to qualify for the competition and the money should be split equally between the three leagues. If this had been agreed with ERC two years ago rather than yesterday we would not be in this position.

    I think that the ERC competition is dead. The Irish, Scottish and Italian regions/clubs may decide to continue without the English and French clubs but I wouldn’t bet against the fact that there is some clause in the ERC/Sky deal that allows Sky to withdraw from the contract if that happens.


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