Clubs the victors over deal for new European trophies

Starting next season, the new elite tournament will be a 20-team affair, four fewer than the Heineken Cup

rugby union correspondent

Two long years of bitter conflict over the future of club rugby in Europe – years of accusation and counter-accusation, of boardroom boycotts, broadcasting brinksmanship and dire threats of legal action – finally reached a conclusion when the warring factions agreed to replace the existing Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup tournaments with three new competitions designed to maximise the competitive and financial potential of the union game in the northern hemisphere. In theory, there should be no more upheavals until 2022 at the earliest.

The deal was announced after a meeting of the nine "stakeholders" – the governing bodies of the Six Nations countries, along with organisations representing the English Premiership clubs, the French Top 14 sides and the four Welsh regions – and the language was diplomatic in the extreme. But make no mistake: the signing of the Heads of Agreement, covering an eight-year term, signalled a decisive victory for the clubs and a heavy defeat for the Irish and Welsh unions, which sought to defend the status quo. Rugby governance has been dragged into the modern age.

In years to come, few will remember the argument that began in 2012 when the increasingly ambitious English and French clubs said they would quit the existing European tournaments at the end of this season. But their withdrawal, driven by the twin frustrations of what they saw as an unmeritocratic Heineken Cup format and a failure of the union-controlled administrative body to market the tournament, sparked a full-blown crisis. But for an agreement between broadcasters BT Sport and Sky Sports, the lawyers would have had a field day.

Starting next season, the new elite tournament – the European Rugby Champions Cup – will be a 20-team affair, four fewer than the Heineken Cup. Qualification will be decided by finishing positions in the three major domestic competitions, with the top six from the English and French leagues being joined by seven sides from the Pro 12, made up of professional outfits from the three Celtic nations and Italy. As each of those countries is guaranteed one place, Pro 12 meritocracy will be just a little different from the Premiership and Top 14 versions.

As expected, the final place will be decided by a play-off. This year, it will be contested by the seventh-placed teams in England and France: Wasps and Bordeaux-Bègles as things stand. From the end of the next season, the format will be expanded to include the two best non-qualifying sides from the Pro 12. There will be no direct entry into the elite tournament for the winners of the second-tier European Rugby Challenge Cup competition, as there has been from Amlin to Heineken, but the victors will get a play-off place if they have not made the cut through the league route.

Perhaps the most welcome development is lower down the food chain: a third-tier tournament. Under the unattractive name of the "Qualifying Competition", it will provide cross-border matches for between eight and a dozen clubs from such enthusiastic and deserving nations as Romania, Georgia, Russia, Spain and Portugal, as well as from the semi-professional backwater in Italy.

With the current Dublin-based management body being wound up, the new tournaments will be run from a neutral (not to say tax-efficient) base in Switzerland. Senior figures in the English clubs expect to generate millions of pounds in extra revenue from improved sponsorship and broadcasting deals.

The new format

• Three new tournaments: an elite European Rugby Champions Cup; a second-tier European Rugby Challenge Cup; and a Qualifying Competition for teams from developing nations.

* The main tournament will be 20 teams in five groups of four. Qualification will be through league position.

* The tournaments will be run by a four-man executive – one from each major league, plus an independent chairman – based in Switzerland.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape