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
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam