Peace in our time. After almost two years of political wrangling, it was announced yesterday (Thursday 10th April 2014) that agreement has been reached on the format, revenue distribution and shared TV rights for, what will be called, the European Rugby Champions Cup. The new 20-team tournament, which will start in October this year, will be overseen by a new company based in Switzerland – ‘European Professional Club Rugby’ (EPCR), bringing to an end the involvement of ‘European Rugby Cup Ltd’ who had run the Heineken and Amlin Cups from their headquarters in Dublin.
In the UK, the competition will be broadcast by BT Sport and Sky Sports as part of a historic shared-rights agreement. The broadcasters will show five games each in every round of the pool stages, followed by two quarter-finals each, an even split of the semi-finals and a dual-broadcast of the final. We believe BT Sport will have first pick for games involving English sides.
In addition to Rugby Champions Cup, two more pan-European competitions will be run from this autumn: The European Rugby Challenge Cup (involving ‘the rest’ of the teams from the three main leagues and 2 other sides from the third-tier competition) and The Qualifying Competition run by FIRA-AER (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur – Association Européenne de Rugby).
The agreement reached yesterday will last a minimum of eight years. The last ever Heineken Cup game will take place on Saturday 24 May 2014 at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.
In Wales the news of European agreement has been warmly welcomed by both the WRU and Regional Rugby Wales as it provides a degree of certainty which had been previously lacking. Both parties have stated that they now look forward to agreeing a new participation/services agreement that will determine how professional rugby operates in the principality. Given the turmoil surrounding the signing of such an agreement over the last year, both the union and RRW will be looking to find a swift resolution.
However, even when (or if) that agreement is signed, the WRU will still have to address another issue that has developed in recent weeks. The union’s governance arrangements have come under increasing scrutiny since the launch of David Moffett’s ‘One Wales manifesto‘. Even if the problems of the Welsh professional game are resolved, questions may still need to be answered regarding how the union represent the interests of the community and semi-professional games. Next week, we’ll be looking at the Moffett campaign and what it could mean for Welsh rugby.
In the meantime, the full statement (released yesterday) regarding the European Rugby Champions Cup is below.
All nine stakeholders (listed below) are delighted to confirm that a Heads of Agreement ensuring the continuation and development of European club rugby competitions has been signed. The parties have underlined their commitment to an invigorated competition which meets the requirements of all the parties involved. It is a truly meritocratic tournament, with appropriate division of finances, underpinned by a long-term agreement and strong governance, starting in the 2014/2015 season.
3 cross border club competitions to be called The European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new competition called the Qualifying Competition.
An association shall be established in Switzerland called ‘European Professional Club Rugby’ (EPCR). This body will be responsible for organising and managing the Cup Competitions.
European Rugby Champions Cup qualification:
20 clubs qualifying through the finishing positions in their leagues from the preceding season:
– top 6 from TOP 14
– top 6 from Premiership Rugby
– top 7 from PRO 12, with at least one club from each country participating in the league
– the 20th place will be taken by the winner of a play off between:
For the 1st season: The 7th highest finishing club from TOP 14 and the 7th highest finishing club from Premiership Rugby. This play off will be played in May 2014, either as one match (in which case, there will be a draw for home advantage) or as home/away.
For subsequent seasons: The 7th highest finishing club from TOP 14, the 7th highest finishing club from Premiership Rugby and the 8th and 9th highest finishing clubs from PRO 12 (or the 2 highest finishing which have not already qualified automatically).
From 2015 season, if the previous season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup winner has not already qualified through its finishing position in its league, it will participate in the play off by taking a place given to its league.
The play off will take place over 2 dates.
– 1st date: 7th club of TOP 14 versus 8th or 9th from PRO 12 and the 7th club of Premiership Rugby versus 8th or 9th from PRO 12. The matches will be played at the home venues of the TOP 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs.
– 2nd date: The 2 winners from the first matches. The venue will be selected by a draw.
European Rugby Challenge Cup qualification:
– 20 clubs comprising 18 clubs from TOP 14, Premiership Rugby and PRO 12
– 2 clubs from the qualifying competition organised with FIRA-AER (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur – Association Européenne de Rugby)
Format of both Competitions:
The competition will take place over 9 weekends. The Pool phase will be through 5 Pools of 4 teams which will play each other home and away (6 matches). The 5 Pool winners and the 3 best runners up will qualify for the Quarter Finals. The Quarter Finals will be played at the home venues of the 4 best Pool winners. The Quarter Final winners will play the Semi Finals and the Semi Final winners will play the Final.
Calendar of both Competitions: The Pool phase will be played in 3 blocks of 2 weekends and will be completed by the end of January. The Final will take place latest the first weekend of May.
The Qualifying Competition will compromise between 8 and 12 teams from Tier 2 countries and Italian clubs as agreed by EPCR & FIRA-AER.
EPCR will be managed through a Board of Directors representing all parties and an Executive committee in charge of commercial matters and assisting with preparations of Board meetings.
The EPCR Board shall have an Independent Chairman.
The EPCR Executive will comprise the Independent Chairman, Director-General, and three voting representatives, one from each of the leagues – namely the TOP 14, Premiership Rugby and PRO 12. The Director-General shall manage the day to day operations of EPCR.
Competitions will be under the aegis of the IRB and run according to the IRB Laws Relating to the Game and IRB Regulations. The parties have also agreed to form a working party to discuss and propose the principles of an integration of European competitions within an all-encompassing European rugby framework.
A minimum eight year agreement.
Equal distribution of funds. i.e. A third to TOP 14 teams, a third to Premiership Rugby teams and a third to PRO 12 teams, with a guaranteed minimum distribution for the clubs from the Pro12 in years 1-5.
The nine parties are: Federation Francaise de Rugby (FFR), Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR), The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Ligue Nationale De Rugby (LNR), Premiership Rugby Ltd (PRL), Regional Rugby Wales Ltd (RRW), The Rugby Football Union (RFU), Scottish Rugby Union PLC (SRU) and The Welsh Rugby Union Ltd (WRU).
ERC Ltd. The parties take seriously their obligations to ERC and their staff and will ensure an orderly and proper transition to the new association