Three-tier European event on table as RFU enters fight

 

Three rounds into the Premiership campaign, rugby folk are already talking feverishly about something else – namely, the future of the Heineken Cup. England's clubs have only themselves to blame: a game-changing £152m deal with a new broadcaster, linked to plans to flatten the entire edifice of European club rugby and rebuild it to their own design whatever the rest of the continent might say, was always likely to distract attention from this weekend's helping of thud and blunder.

While those alarmed by the Premiership's unilateral selling of television rights to the communications giant BT continued to accuse them of adopting a beggar-thy-neighbour strategy for their own ends, the general shape of the English plan for European competition began to emerge. Supported by financial resources way beyond anything previously generated by the Heineken Cup, they will table a proposal for a three-tier cross-border format, with only the top six teams from each of the major northern hemisphere leagues – the Premiership, the Celtic-Italian Pro 12 and the French Top 14 – guaranteed entry to the elite tournament. The third tier will eventually include teams from developing rugby nations in southern and eastern Europe, with a promotion mechanism built in.

In return, the English will require backing for their new broadcasting deal, together with the creation of a new administrative structure for European competition – one capable of maximising commercial opportunities that, in their view, have slipped through the fingers of the current Dublin-based set-up. If that seems a lot to ask, they are confident that when the numbers are tabled at a Heineken Cup board meeting next week, those who have already closed their eyes to the plan will suddenly open them.

They do, however, expect this to be a "dirty war", as one senior member of the English club movement put it. Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation representing the top-flight professional clubs, felt the need yesterday to make a public statement of support for their chief executive, Mark McCafferty, who negotiated the new television deal. This followed reports that McCafferty did not have the unequivocal backing of all the leading clubs and although the idea that he played a solo hand with BT and then presented the agreement as a fait accompli is laughable, the decision to issue the statement underlined the sensitivity of the situation.

Meanwhile, the former European champions Wasps finally concluded their lengthy search for new owners by agreeing terms with a consortium headed by Ken Moss, a former player.

They now stand alone, having negotiated full separation from the previous owner Steve Hayes and his Wycombe Wanderers set-up, although they will continue to play at the football club's Adams Park ground until they find themselves a home of their own – a long-term priority for the new board, which will feature both Moss and the existing chairman Mark Rigby.

Wasps have been crying out for this for several seasons. It will take time, but the tarnished Londoners finally have a chance of reclaiming some of their long-lost lustre.

Premiership preview

Harlequins v Sale

Harlequins restore Danny Care at half-back and make two changes up front, promoting Charlie Matthews to a starting berth at lock and reinstalling Nick Easter at No 8. Sale travel with box-office talent in Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray. Tom Brady plays wing instead of the injured Will Addison.

London Welsh v Exeter

Nick Scott, one of several ex-Bath players in the Exiles' squad, replaces Joe Ajuwa at wing for a game the newcomers have earmarked as a possible win. Exeter are in good shape, though, and the selection of the substantial Fijian centre Sireli Naqelevuki suggests they are also in the mood.

Saracens v Leicester

Owen Farrell replaces Charlie Hodgson at outside-half as Saracens set up camp at Wembley for the first time this season. There are also promotions for James Short, Neil de Kock, Carlos Nieto and Jackson Wray. The Tigers, currently on maximum points, start with Logovi'i Mulipola and Dan Cole at prop.

Wasps v London Irish

Stephen Jones, one of the finest outside-halves of his generation, makes a first start for Wasps at the ripe old age of 34, having left Wales at the end of last season. There is also a start for the imported Springbok back-rower Ashley Johnson against an unchanged London Irish.

Worcester v Gloucester

Gloucester start without Freddie Burns, architect of last weekend's win at London Irish. Burns has ankle problems and, while he is fit enough for bench duty, the West Countrymen are playing safe by shifting Billy Twelvetrees inside and recalling Mike Tindall at centre. Nikki Walker makes his debut for Worcester.

News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own