Saturday 18 November 2017

Premiership chief McCafferty: We want Rabo teams to join us in two new-look tournaments

Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby's chief executive
Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby's chief executive

Gavin Mairs

England's leading clubs hope to set up a revamped second tier European competition to replace the current Amlin Challenge Cup if enough clubs opt to join their proposed new Anglo-French tournament.

 Club owners and shareholders of all 12 Premiership clubs are due to attend a meeting on Wednesday to hear details about how the new tournaments – if they are sanctioned by the Rugby Football Union and their French counterparts – would work depending on the number of clubs that opt to join.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty indicated last week that a number of clubs from other European nations had already declared an informal interest in the new tournament while there was also interest from outside of Europe, including South Africa.

McCafferty told Telegraph Sport that the English clubs' ultimate goal was for two European competitions of 20 teams each and a third tournament involving teams from developing nations.

"In the debate over the future of European Rugby the second competition has been forgotten but it is crucial to its success. Anyone who is serious about creating better European club competitions must also focus on the second competition," McCafferty said.

“Our new European competitions will not only bring more money into European club rugby but it will lead to three competitive tournaments.

"The top two tournaments will be more competitive than the current two so it will not only help club rugby but international rugby too. There are many England Test players in the Amlin Challenge Cup so if the standard of that competition rises it will also help the England team.

“We would like to see two European competitions of 20 teams each and a third tournament involving teams from developing nations. Each season two teams from the developing nations would be able to play in the second competitions and there would also be access into the top competition.

“This season former Heineken Cup winners London Wasps and Bath Rugby are in the Amlin Challenge Cup so if it is good enough for them why isn’t it good enough for teams from the Rabo Pro Direct? Last season the only Rabo Direct side in the Amlin was the Dragons. Promoted properly and with a higher standard it could become a very valuable tournament."

A Premiership Rugby spokesman however dismissed reports today that one option under consideration at Wednesday's meeting was a plan to move the Premiership final from the end of the season and to play European club rugby in a single block from March to June.

“There is no proposal to move the Aviva Premiership Rugby final to end of January, before the RBS Six Nations," said the spokesman.

"Aviva Premiership Rugby is our primary competition and we are committed to the final being the last match of the season, as it has been for many years.

"We want more Aviva Premiership Rugby after the RBS Six Nations not less.”

European Rugby Cup Limited, the governing body of the Heineken Cup, remains hopeful that the English and French clubs will return to the negotiating table for a final attempt to resolve the concerns that prompted both leagues to serve notice to leave the current accord in June 2012.

The ERC today issued an invitation to all signatories to the current European club rugby Accord to attend a meeting in Dublin on October 23 to see if a solution can be made to the current impasse.

It was agreed at last week's ERC Board meeting that ERC would facilitate the process across a range of points of difference such as the share of central revenues, qualification criteria and format. To this end, ERC is compiling a shortlist of mediators to assist in the negotiations.

ERC Chief Executive, Derek McGrath, said: "The involvement of all parties in ERC's make-up is as vital now as it was in the early days of the organisation. The only forum which can provide the platform for all-party negotiation under the Accord is the ERC forum and any attempt to ambush or denigrate the discussions is clearly not in the best interest of these great European tournaments.

"More than one year has passed since notice was served on the Accord and no proposal to date has received sufficient support to provide the basis for progress. This should not be seen as insurmountable, as agreement on European tournaments has always required compromise with an acceptance that no party will secure everything on their wish-list.

"The only way we ever made progress in previous Accord negotiations was by serious engagement on the part of all ERC decision-makers. The same positive approach is required now and it is hoped that all signatories to the Accord will dedicate their energy to the renewed process."

Gloucester chairman Ryan Walkinshaw rejected that notion however, insisting there was "absolutely no chance" of more talks with the ERC framework.

"We have given them opportunities, we have told them dozens and dozens of times 'this is what we are hoping to expect' and please to come to us with something and start discussions," said Walkinshaw.

"The statement about starting negotiations last week was far too little and far too late. If there is no European competition next year, there is no-one else to blame but ERC for their arrogance and the amount of time it has taken them to even acknowledge that we are serious in what we are trying to sort out here."

The Rugby Football Union have said that they want to see all the details of the new tournament before they will consider whether or not to sanction it. Walkinshaw however insisted he did not expect the RFU to stand in their clubs' way.

"I cannot understand why the RFU would not support this," Walkinshaw added.

"At the end of the day they profit from having their players playing in a tournament whereby they are getting the experience and skills and performance against other teams and other countries, which is beneficial to the union.

"And why on earth would they not want to support a tournament which is much better commercially and with a much great degree of meritocracy and equality both in terms of how you get into that tournament and how the funds are distributed to all the clubs.

"Our relationship with the RFU is a partnership and this is the opportunity for us to create a better and brighter tournament for the clubs."

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