England’s Premiership clubs confirmed on Thursday they would not take part in next season’s European Cup.
Representatives of all 12 Premiership clubs met in London following last week’s dramatic decision by France’s Top 14 sides to pull out of the proposed Anglo-French breakaway Rugby Champions Cup, after pressure from the French Rugby Federation (FFR).
“The English clubs have unanimously re-confirmed their position,” said a statement issued by Premiership Rugby League (PRL), the umbrella group for England’s leading teams, following Thursday’s meeting. “Having served notice in June 2012, they will not participate in any competitions run by ERC [European Rugby Cup] from [the] 2014/15 season.”
The league said they were “pursuing other options” not involving ERC, who also run the second-tier European Challenge Cup.
“ERC does not structurally recognise the role of the leagues and clubs in driving the success of club competitions, under the overall governance of [national] Unions,” the league’s statement added.
“The ERC voting structure is controlled by Unions even though the majority of commercial value is created by the independent clubs which represent 75 percent of the participants. Proposals put forward to address a new structure within a Rugby Champions Cup were agreed by a majority of the unions in October, alongside meritocratic competition formats and equitable financial distributions. However, these have not been accepted by all,” it said.
“The English clubs have worked exhaustively over the last 18 months to propose solutions to the issues with the current European competitions and to provide a sustainable platform to grow the game in the various countries. The English clubs are now pursuing other options,” the statement added.
Just what those other options might be are still a matter for debate.
Welsh clubs were supportive of the breakaway plan, but they too have come under pressure from their national union.
Last week it appeared the Ligue National de Rugby, which represents France’s Top 14 clubs, were trying to retain some leverage over ERC when Ligue National de Rugby president Paul Goze said: “French clubs can get involved in competitions run by the ERC [in 2014-2015] on condition that all the deals are signed and that the competition will be staged with clubs from England.”
There have been reports in the British press suggesting the league have put out feelers to South African provinces about a new competition.
An expanded Premiership that includes Welsh or second-tier English Championship teams is another possibility.