Well, I really don’t understand what’s going on with the Heineken Cup! Every time things seem to be heading towards a resolution something happens to turn it on its head.
First, Toulon siding with the ERC seemed to turn things in the ERC’s favour. Then when the Welsh clubs joined with their English and French counterparts, the English/French clubs seemed to have the advantage.
Strangely, the ERC and the Rugby Unions had their planned mediation talks, despite the fact that the English and French clubs claimed that they would boycott any such talks and did indeed boycott them!
Their were reprsentatives from the ERC and the Rugby Unions of Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France and Italy at the mediation talks.
The only groups not represented were the English and French clubs themselves! It seems quite odd to have mediation talks when only 1 side turns up!
At the mediation talks, the ERC proposed 2 new competitions which would involve teams from the 6 countries in Europe and the competitions would comprise of 20 teams, rather than the current 20.
The new-look Heineken would comprise of 6 teams each from the English Premiership and the French Top 14, along with the top 7 teams in the Rabo12 (based on the Rabo Table).
The last place would be taken by the winner of a play-off match between the 7th placed teams in the Premiership and Top 14.
Qualification for the new Heineken Cup tournament would therefore be based on merit, rather than having teams automatically qualifying from the respective countries.
This new format confirms with proposals made by the English and French clubs to make qualification for the Heineken Cup based solely on merit.
This would give the Rabo games added incentive with a spot in the Heineken Cup at stake (1 point I want to make is that rugby doesn’t really need more competitive games as it would put more strain on the players).
They’ve also talked of balancing out the revenue more evenly between the participating teams. The ERC still wants to have control over any European tournament, with the backing of the Rugby Unions.
The French and English clubs are adamant that they would control such a tournament and that the unions would have no control.
The new Heineken format seems to be relying on the English and French clubs backing down on their position and rejoining the Heineken Cup. This seems unlikely.
The English and French clubs have come up with their own proposal for their proposed new tournament. It’s very similar to the new Heineken Cup format.
The English and French clubs new tournament (called the Rugby Champions Cup) involves 20 teams, but with 6 each from the Premiership, Top 14 and the Rabo. The last 2 places would also be decided by playoffs.
The English/French clubs plans seem to hinge on the other Rabo teams following the Welsh clubs and joining the new RCC. The RCC would be controlled by the English and French clubs.
The main bone of contention between the ERC and the English/French clubs now seems to be who would have control over the tournament. The ERC want it to be them, while the English and French clubs want control.
It’s all very confusing: both sides seem to think that they will eventually win. The English and French clubs also haven’t addressed the fact that they don’t have any permission from the IRB or the Rugby Unions to go ahead with a new tournament.
Permission the IRB claims is fundamental to starting up a new tournament. It also seems strange that the Welsh clubs would join up with the English/French clubs when that IRB permission wasn’t forthcoming.
And another point would be that, under the format of the proposed RCC, only 1 or 2 Welsh teams is likely to be able to compete in the new tournament. This despite the fact that all 4 Welsh sides have joined with the English/French clubs?
It seems that ERC is preparing to meet the English and French clubs half-way on the new tournament, whereas the English/French clubs aren’t budging at all. It might be too late for the new Heineken Cup format. Let’s hope not!