Stalemate threatens European deadline
While England's clubs continue to promise that next year's Heineken Cup final will be the last under the present format, and talk is rife of a replacement competition involving English, French and Welsh clubs, the status quo is a stalemate.
A deadline of sorts exists for 30 June, after which Premiership Rugby want to announce their league fixtures for next season with a clear statement of what – if any – cross-border competitions their clubs will be playing towards.
But the English clubs have made no headway with their proposal for a new European competition in 2014-15 to be run by the three major leagues – Aviva Premiership, Rabo Direct Pro 12 and Top 14 – with a three-way split of revenues and governance. The English clubs' matches, and possibly the rest of the UK's, would be broadcast by BT.
The existing Heineken Cup, established in 1995, is owned and run by the Six Nations unions through European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), who have signed a broadcast deal with Sky for post-2014.
And one Irish representative on the ERC board said last week: "We're not for blinking. This is just a money grab by the English clubs." With talks having been stalled for months, it is believed ERC's only significant concession would be a greater subsidy to the clubs, predominantly from England and France, who compete in the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup.
Bruce Craig, the chairman and owner of Bath, who has been negotiating on behalf of the Premiership, said: "The English and French clubs gave notice to ERC because they no longer feel a union-controlled competition is applicable to professional club rugby. The answer is a new ERC, with equal shareholding among three leagues, qualification based on meritocracy through each league and a financial distribution of 33 per cent each." Currently the financial split is 52-24-24 to the teams in the Pro 12, Premiership and Top 14 respectively, distributed through their unions.
If there is no agreement for post-2014, other alternatives include the Aviva Premiership and French Championship increasing in size to 14 and 16 clubs respectively. It remains unclear just how strongly the French clubs and Wales's regions are aligned with the English. All parties are aware that, in any event, the 2015-16 season will be disrupted by the World Cup being held in England, and a European resolution may be parked until after that.
The bigger picture is whether England's clubs will become disenchanted enough to legally challenge the power of rugby's governing bodies to ban certain cross-border competitions and regulate the release of contracted players for internationals.
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