By Brendan Cole
Premiership Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty has said that the planning process for a new European Cup-type tournament is underway and put Irish, Welsh and Scottish clubs on notice that they will need to signal their intentions within the next 4-6 weeks.
The English clubs released a statement yesterday outlining their intention to launch a new tournament in conjunction with the clubs in the Top 14. The French clubs released a statement supporting the English move yesterday. The competition will be open to clubs from other nations.
A meeting involving all stakeholders in the current Heineken Cup is taking place under the auspices of organising body European Rugby Cup (ERC) today.
McCafferty told the London Independent: "We won't know exactly what shape it will take until we have a decision from the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian teams on whether they wish to be a part of it.
“We'll need answers from them between four and six weeks from now. For our part, the planning process is now under way.”
"We've been talking for 12 months now and we've gone round in circles." - Mark McCafferty
Despite the timing of the announcement, McCafferty is adamant that the decision to launch a new competition was not taken suddenly.
He said: "We made it clear more than a year ago that we would withdraw from the Heineken Cup as it is currently constituted at the end of this season. The last all-stakeholder meeting on reform of the tournament was back at the end of May. Here we are, almost in mid-September, with the domestic competitions in England and France up and running, and no clarity as to what is happening in terms of European competition.”
The English and French alliance wants the competition reduced from 24 teams to 20 with qualification on merit. Under their proposed rules, each nation would have only one guaranteed entrant in the competition.
Currently, England and France have six guaranteed entrants, Ireland and Wales have three and Scotland and Italy have two each.
Broadcast rights are a complicating factor. ERC has negotiated a new deal with current broadcaster Sky, but the English clubs have signed a contract with new market entrant BT Vision. BT Vision has already signed a deal to show Premiership rugby matches for the next four years.
McCafferty said that time was of the essence as no European competition for next season had been put in place despite the 2013/14 season already being underway.
"What's the definition of madness? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. We've been talking for 12 months now and we've gone round in circles. There comes a point when you feel there's nothing there to negotiate. We've put forward positive proposals to the other interested parties, but there has been no movement. Now we need to crack on and put something in place for the 2014-15 season."