Celtic concessions may help shape new Europe
The future of a truly pan-European competition looks more assured this morning – although there is still no idea who will actually run a successor to the Heineken Cup, what it will be called and who will broadcast it.
Clear as mud, then.
After the umpteenth round-table discussion, hosted by current organisers ERC in Dublin yesterday, there was at least some definable progress made in terms of revenue distribution and qualification rules.
These were two of the main sticking points of the renegade English and French clubs, who have vowed to form their own breakaway Champions Cup from next season.
They weren't present for yesterday's meeting – again – but they are being kept keenly informed by the English Union, who sent big hitters Bill Beaumont and Rob Andrew to hint at the urgency of securing a deal.
And the English clubs were not swayed by the compromises made by the Celtic unions involving distribution of revenue, the format of the competition and the qualification process.
"We've nailed our colours very firmly to the strategic path we are going down in terms of what we can build, which is the Rugby Champions Cup," Premiership Rugby (PRL) chief executive Mark McCafferty said.
"The Welsh have come on board, and we are into implementation mode. We have always said that there is no way we are going into any competitions that are run by ERC after the end of this season. That hasn't changed. We feel a fresh start has got to be made.
"It is a competition format that will be strong, fair to everyone and more financially lucrative to everyone."
Two pertinent issues are governance and the controversial BT TV deal, details of which have never been made public and which directly contravenes the current Sky contract. BT and Sky will hardly share the broadcasting rights, so the lawyers could have a field day.
If they eventually get that far, we at least now know who will be invited to compete in the revised European competition and how the revenue will be divided.
The Pro12 will be guaranteed no less revenue than they currently receive and they have succeeded in upping their number of qualified teams from six to seven.
This will guarantee one from each country and, based on previous competitions, would ensure that Leinster, Munster and Ulster would qualify next season.
Connacht only ever qualified for the Heineken Cup as a result of Leinster winning European titles in the last three seasons; this pathway to the top tier would no longer be available to them.
The unions assented to the English and French (LNR) clubs' proposals that the two European tournaments should have 20 teams each next season (it is currently 24) and that the financial distribution should be split equally between the Premiership, Top 14 and Pro12 leagues.
Although present yesterday, the IRFU would not comment on the ongoing negotiations. Instead, it was left to mediators Graham Mew and Stephen Drymer to issue a communiqué ahead of the next meeting, likely to be next Friday.
"There is consensus that... the primary competition would be made up of 20 clubs, with six each from PRL and the LNR, and seven from the Pro12. The clubs would come through meritocratic qualification from their leagues. In the case of the Pro12, there will be at least one club guaranteed from each country.
"In year one, the 20th place would be allocated through a play-off match between the seventh-placed PRL and LNR clubs. For the following years, the 20th club would qualify through play-offs between the seventh-placed PRL and LNR clubs and the two next non-qualified Pro12 clubs.
"The winner of the secondary competition would qualify to participate in the play-offs, if not already qualified by right.
"The English and French clubs would have home advantage in the play-offs against the Pro12 clubs.
"The secondary competition would consist of up to 20 clubs made up of the remaining 18 PRL, LNR and Pro12 clubs.
Two places could be allocated to clubs qualifying from a third competition.
However, there is still much uncertainty. This one is set to run and run, but the warring factions are running out of time and road.