Clubs demand £14 million World Cup compensation
New global cup competition also planned as rugby world is reshaped
England's Premiership clubs, emboldened by the "historic" agreement that has given them a central role in running next season's new European competitions, are set for three more battles with rugby's governing bodies.
The clubs are demanding £14 million from the Rugby Football Union as compensation for the disruption caused by next year's World Cup in England and Wales.
And the clubs, having paid tribute to the RFU's chief executive Ian Ritchie for smoothing the new European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR) accord, are set to test the resolve of the world governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), with plans to create a World Club Cup in June 2018.
The month-long tournament, which has been discussed with broadcasters Sky in the UK and Supersport in South Africa, would see the eight quarter-finalists from the European Champions Cup meeting eight crack southern-hemisphere teams from what by then will be the Super 16.
A key aspect of the European accord that will see a 20-team Champions Cup replace the Heineken Cup next season is that the national unions have nine seats on the 18-strong EPCR board. It preserves the IRB's treasured Regulation 13 that says unions must sanction cross-border competitions and is a compromise from the clubs' threat at one time to go it alone, but hugely preferable in the clubs' eyes to the union-dominated, Dublin-based European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC).
But the IRB, whose World Cup for national teams provides the bulk of their operating revenue, may view a World Club Cup dimly as a rival interest.
Unlike many other leading countries, England's players are contracted to the clubs and released for international matches under a Heads of Agreement between the RFU and Premiership Rugby that expires in 2016 and is currently being renegotiated.
With next year's World Cup being played in September and October, the 2015-2016 club season will start two months later than normal in November. The Premiership clubs insist there is no danger of them withholding England players from taking part but the RFU has so far refused to meet the £14m demand, which a club source said is "a figure that's been scientifically worked out" as commensurate with them not playing competitions between May and November.
Another effect of the need to squeeze 33 rounds of the Aviva Premiership and European Champions Cup into a shortened 2015-16 season is a threat to England's tour to Australia in June 2016 – "a massive problem", according to one club source, and an echo of this year's shambles of England facing the world champions New Zealand in Auckland on 7 June without the players from the previous week's Aviva Premiership final.
"We want all outstanding matters including the World Cup compensation and the new Heads of Agreement for post-2016 to be done by the end of this year," said Bruce Craig, the Bath chairman and passionate driving force behind the new Europe.
"We don't want to be going into a World Cup year with any distractions. Ian Ritchie has shown himself to be a businessman and a savvy guy at the head of the RFU who is not embroiled in rugby politics. It has been a pleasure working with him."
It was Craig who came up with the "Champions Cup" title for the slimmed-down 20-team European tournament to replace the Heineken Cup which England's clubs hope will more than double the £10m annual revenue they were being promised by ERC.
Further details can be revealed here. The 2014-15 Champions Cup draw will be seeded purely on finishing positions in this season's leagues, abandoning the previous weighting given to past performance. The three champion clubs of the Premiership, Pro 12 and French Top 14 will be joined from a blind draw by two of the three beaten finalists, as top seed in each of the five pools.
The third remaining beaten finalist will be in a pot of second seeds along with the next best-placed teams from the three leagues, and so on throughout the draw. Teams from the same country will be kept apart although it is inevitable two pools will feature two clubs from one country – either England or France, depending who wins this May's play-off between their seventh-placed clubs.
ERC had promised the 2015 Heineken Cup final to Milan, and Craig said EPCR may stick to that plan, adjusted for a new early-May date that clears the three league finals to be the season's concluding showpieces. "The San Siro Stadium looks a great venue," Craig said. "An 80,000 capacity and I'm sure supporters would love a three or four-day trip to Italy in May. We will take club and regional rugby to a new level, with much greater interest in the clubs, the players and the cities."
Craig conceded the World Club Cup may not take place until 2022, with international teams' June tours having been agreed up to 2019, and British & Irish Lions tours scheduled for 2017 and 2021.
The three-man EPCR commercial executive will include Craig, Rene Fontes from France and Paul McNaughton from Ireland. If the trio are split over a "reserved matter", it will need a 66 per cent vote from the board, which includes four representatives each from the English and French leagues, but just one from the Welsh regions, plus an independent chairman.
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