The deputy chairman of England’s Premiership Rugby has said Celtic League clubs face “financial oblivion” if they do not join the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.
Bruce Craig told the BBC on Wednesday that the existing European Cup was “finished” and that the only way forward for Celtic League sides was to join the Anglo-French-inspired Rugby Champions Cup, which was launched on Sunday.
“If the competition is not approved then that would have absolutely catastrophic implications for Celtic rugby,” Craig said. “The Heineken [European] Cup is finished, it’s over. The Rugby Champions Cup is a way to save European rugby.”
English and French clubs said 15 months ago they would quit both the European Cup and the second-tier European Challenge Cup, both run by the European Rugby Championship (ERC) when the existing tournament agreements expire at the end of this season.
They want the European Cup to be restructured, believing there is an unfair advantage accorded to Celtic League sides from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.
At least 10 of the 12 Celtic League teams — including both Scottish sides, both Italian clubs and a minimum of three each from Wales and Ireland — have a free pass into the competition.
However, only the top six from England’s 12-strong Premiership and France’s Top 14 are guaranteed a place.
Craig has warned the national unions and the International Rugby Board that they face legal action if they try to stop the Rugby Champions Cup from going ahead.
Craig believes some Celtic League sides receive up to ￡3 million (US$4.81 million) for competing in the existing European Cup.
By contrast, Craig said English clubs received about ￡800,000 annually for their European Cup participation.
“People say the English and French clubs are greedy. The fact is we are losing money,” he said.
“The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn’t happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won’t have those distributions from that competition,” he said. “The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn’t, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries.”