Heineken Cup replacement ready to launch

The 20th and final place will go to the winner of an Anglo-French play-off this May

The puffs of white smoke are not expected to appear for another three or four days – nine different stakeholders, communicating in three languages, rarely do anything quickly, especially when relationships are so strained – but to all intents and purposes, the bitter turf war over the European club rugby is at an end.

A new elite tournament, looking uncannily like the Rugby Champions Cup competition proposed by the leading English and French teams several months ago, will be in place for next season, with the initial blast of action scheduled for this coming May.

Nineteen teams – the top six from the English and French domestic tournaments, together with seven sides from the Pro 12 – will qualify through league positions, although the situation in the latter case is complicated by the guarantee of one place for each of its participating nations: the three Celtic countries and Italy.

The 20th and final place will go to the winner of an Anglo-French play-off between the club finishing seventh in the Aviva Premiership and their opposite number across the Channel. That match has been inked in for the weekend of 17 May, although it has yet to be decided whether it will be a one-off fixture or the first leg of a home-and-away tie.

As things stand, the blue-collar London side Wasps will take on the super-wealthy Parisians of Racing Métro for the right to play in what until now has been known as the Heineken Cup – a much-loved tournament heading for dissolution, having been used as a political football for longer than anyone cares to remember.

There again, the play-off could just as easily be between Exeter (whose home ground at Sandy Park will be closed for redevelopment on the relevant date) and Toulouse, the most successful European campaigners of all.

Indeed, it is perfectly possible that Toulouse could win this season's Heineken Cup – they have made the quarter-finals in pursuit of a fifth title, which would be two more than anyone else has won – and not have a seat at next season's top table.

With the English clubs, in particular, arguing passionately for a meritocratic system of qualification based on domestic league performance, there will be no automatic entry for the reigning champions. Nor will there be a guaranteed place for the winners of the second-tier competition, which currently goes under the name of the Amlin Challenge Cup.

Contractual fine detail was the name of the game, with many and varied documents relating to governance and administration, commercial control, participation regulations and, most crucially, broadcasting rights being given the once-over by the six national unions and three stakeholding bodies representing the clubs – Premiership Rugby, the Ligue Nationale de Rugby and Regional Rugby Wales. The new competitions (three in all, including a bottom-tier event for teams from developing nations from Portugal in the west to Russia in the east) will be run by a new company based in "tax-efficient" Switzerland, following the dismantling of the existing European Rugby Cup Ltd organisation, based in "tax-efficient" Ireland.

Such is the close-fought nature of the three major European leagues, qualification is likely to go down to the wire. But if things stay as they are, the showpiece tournament will feature the following teams: Northampton, Saracens, Bath, Leicester, Harlequins and Sale from England; Toulon, Clermont Auvergne, Montpellier, Stade Francais, Toulouse and Castres from France; Leinster, Munster and Ulster from Ireland; Ospreys and Scarlets from Wales; Glasgow from Scotland; Treviso from Italy; and the winner of the Wasps-Racing Métro tie.

Meanwhile, the long-serving London Irish flanker Declan Danaher has announced his retirement at 34. He will remain with the club as academy forwards coach.

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little