England’s leading clubs will play Premiership rugby during the knockout stages of next year’s home World Cup – and be compensated for disruption to their businesses to the tune of £13m – following a deal struck with the Rugby Football Union. The agreement brings to an end a potentially destructive argument that could have left the governing body in the most difficult of positions ahead of one of the biggest sporting events ever held in these islands.
Initially, the Premiership teams were told that, under International Rugby Board regulations, no top-flight matches could be played in the host country for the duration of the global tournament, which begins this time next year and will last six weeks. Alarmed at the prospect of a blockage to their income streams, the clubs demanded £14m in compensation and quickly started to rattle their sabres when the RFU offered well under half that amount. One threatened course of action was to stage major club contests from the start of September and dare the IRB to do its worst.
Now, it appears the clubs will get most of what they originally wanted. The financial arrangement with the union is complicated, with some new money based on projected profits from the World Cup and some of it being released early to help with cash-flow problems, but according to Mark McCafferty, the chief executive of Premier Rugby, it is “mutually beneficial”.
By securing permission to start the 2015-16 Premiership as soon as the World Cup group stage finishes in mid-October, the clubs will not have to increase the number of midweek fixtures in order to complete their league programme. It also cuts their fallow business period by at least a fortnight.
Equally importantly, Premier Rugby will receive 100 per cent of the net profits from this autumn’s fourth and final England international, against the Wallabies at Twickenham on 29 November, rather than the 50 per cent guaranteed under the present deal with the RFU.
In addition, the clubs will be given the go-ahead to organise a major cross-border club game at Twickenham at a time of their choosing over the next two seasons – possibly a match between the Premiership champions and a top southern hemisphere Super 15 side.
“We have resolved a challenging issue through productive discussions over the last few months, largely behind the scenes,” McCafferty said. “This conclusion is a reflection of the desire to find solutions. We have seen a dynamic and compelling start to the club season with increased attendances and a record number of tries. There is a feel-good factor sweeping through English rugby. This agreement adds to it.”
Meanwhile, the RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie described the union’s relationship with the clubs as “the envy of other countries”, adding that his organisation was happy to continue investing “significant sums” into the professional club game.”
As a result of this breakthrough, the England head coach, Stuart Lancaster, will be permitted to wait until the back end of next month before announcing his elite player squad. Lancaster was originally scheduled to name his party for the autumn Tests during the summer, as stipulated by the current RFU-Premiership agreement – a deeply inconvenient time for the coach, but one that allows the clubs the maximum amount of time to plan for the loss of important players during international windows.
This greater flexibility will allow Lancaster to pick on current form, rather than on reputation or assumption, and ensures a series of intense individual contests at Premiership level in virtually every position.Reuse content