English threat to Pro12 future
THE Pro12 could be under threat after English clubs confirmed that they will not take part in any European Rugby Cup competitions next season.
Premiership Rugby will now "pursue other options" after a meeting of their chairmen and stakeholders yesterday, one of which is an expansion of their competition to include Welsh regions or clubs.
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray claimed earlier this week that the Welsh clubs were keen to join the English in a new competition.
The four-nation Pro12 is already suffering from an increasing drain of Welsh talent to England and France, with Richard Hibbard (Gloucester) and Rhys Priestland (Wasps) the latest internationals to join the flight from the cash-strapped regions, who are currently working with the Welsh Rugby Union towards a new deal on their future.
After losing French support for the proposed new Rugby Champions Cup last week as the Top 14 clubs pledged to play in the Heineken Cup next season, the English clubs were left isolated.
Having signed a lucrative deal with BT Sport for coverage of their European games last year, the prospect of them returning to the ERC appeared remote, and that was confirmed yesterday.
Premiership Rugby have limited options available to them to pursue – one is to approach the Welsh clubs and invite them into an expanded Anglo-Welsh competition. They may also approach the South African provinces with a view to a new tournament.
In the meantime the Heineken Cup will proceed next season without them for the first time since 1998-99, when Ulster won the competition.
But the long-term future of the competition remains shrouded in doubt while the English clubs remain outside the tent.