Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

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Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Mauler » August 23rd, 2012, 7:21 am

The voluble chief executive of Premiership Rugby has issued more threats to pull out of the Heineken Cup, writes GERRY THORNLEY

THE LATEST Anglo-French stand-off with their European counterparts over the future composition of the Heineken Cup has intensified. True to form, Mark McCafferty – the voluble chief executive of Premiership Rugby – has provocatively upped the ante by accusing the ERC of dragging its heels on the issue, much to the dismay and frustration of the tournament’s organisers.

The current accord, agreed in 2007, has two more seasons to run and as with previous agreements, the likelihood is that the brinkmanship will continue for much of the next two years, amid further threats of an Anglo-French breakaway competition.

There’s little doubt though that McCafferty’s complaints reflect a growing angst and envy within English and French club rugby, however misguided, concerning the Irish provinces’ ability to claim five of the last seven Heineken Cups.

Under the terms of the 2007 ERC shareholders’ agreement, which agreed to the current qualification and competition format over a seven-year period until the end of the 2013-14 season, any of the key shareholders who wanted that accord to be renegotiated had to serve notice of their intention to break away from the ’07 agreement by June 1st of this year.

Three of the stakeholders – the Fédération Francaise de Rugby (FFR), the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and Premiership Rugby – duly did so. On foot of this, an ERC board meeting on June 6th initiated the ensuing two-year term of renegotiations by agreeing that the ERC chief executive Derek McGrath and ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux conduct a series of meetings over the summer with the various stakeholders to lay the ground for a workshop meeting on September 18th.

This they have done, so for McCafferty to declare again that “the clubs in England and France have served two years’ notice that we intend to pull out of Europe because there needs to be a level playing field” is nothing new.

“So far, the response from the other countries has been slow, even though we are not sabre-rattling. We have not been locked in talks and there is no meeting about the issue until the end of next month,” added McCafferty, who said he could not understand why the ERC was “dragging its heels”.

The ERC are rarely inclined to become embroiled in an unedifying public spat with McCafferty but these observations drew an ERC spokesperson to comment: “We feel a little bit dismayed at this accusation because there is a process and a timeline and a preparatory sequence agreed at a board meeting on June 6th and the meetings with Derek McGrath and Jean-Pierre Lux are still ongoing. So to say that nothing has been happening and people have been dragging their feet is frustrating to say the least.”

The June 6th board meeting was attended by Peter Wheeler of Premiership Rugby as well as all the other board members.

McCafferty also reiterated the view of Premiership Rugby (and their French counterparts) that the Heineken Cup qualification process should be reduced to 20 clubs and be “entirely merit based”, in that “the top teams in all three leagues as well as the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup should make up 20 sides taking part”.

Applied retrospectively, this would have halved the Welsh and Scottish representation to two and one respectively this season, while debarring the Italians altogether, which rather defeats the competition’s primary purpose of being a European Cup.

“The system plays a role in the way Leinster and Munster have dominated the competition in recent years,” claimed McCafferty, which rather conveniently overlooks the fact that Leinster, and indeed Munster, have been consistently at the business end of both competitions, with Leinster reaching the finals of the last three Pro12s as well as winning the last two Heineken Cups and Munster also reaching the League play-offs in each of the last three seasons.

Indeed, were a top six qualification crudely applied retrospectively, Leinster and Munster would still have qualified in each of the last nine seasons of a full Celtic/Rabo league structure.

Nor did the tougher qualification systems in England and France prevent the English clubs winning five Heineken Cups in an eight-year period (1997 to 2004) or Toulouse from winning four Cups to augment Brive’s success in 1997, nor indeed the all-French finals of ’03, ’05 and ’10 and all-English final of ’07. Indeed, in those days we were told that the competitiveness of their leagues was supposedly a virtue.

And why, then, has the easier Celtic qualifying route not facilitated the Welsh winning it once or the Scots from reaching more than one semi-finals? Of course, it was Edinburgh reaching a first Heineken Cup semi-final last year while finishing 11th of 12 in last season’s Rabo Pro12 which gave the Anglo-French axis its most compelling argument.

“I understand the Pro12 model is different, but we cannot damage our core competition for 20 per cent ,” says McCafferty. Yet few of the Premiership clubs make a profit, and this latest rift will distract from the undignified squabble which saw London Welsh eventually win promotion to the Premiership on appeal via the High Court.

Meanwhile, the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup grow annually in terms of spectators, viewing audiences and profits (the Heineken Cup generated over €50m in revenue in 2010-11).

“ERC should know that we are serious and while the issue has to be resolved, everyone has to realise we cannot carry on as we are,” said McCafferty, before threatening: “If it is not, we would go to an Anglo-French competition and if others wanted to join us, fair enough.”

This one is set to run. And run.
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/spo ... 67248.html
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby suisse » August 23rd, 2012, 7:52 am

Guardian lining up the same tune.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/au ... ineken-cup

"So far, the response from the other countries has been slow, even though we are not sabre-rattling. We have not been locked in talks and there is no meeting about the issue until the end of next month. Our view is that the qualification process needs to be changed so that it is entirely merit based – the top teams in all three leagues as well as the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup should make up 20 sides taking part."
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby blaker » August 23rd, 2012, 8:44 am

I have SOME limited sympathy for the UK/French here, caveated as follows;
1 - Its in their self interest to get an extra team for themesleves
2 - I don't think this will affect the like sof Lein, Mun, Osp, Card, Uls etc - they'll qualify by and large (though the latter 3 may need to focus a BIT more)
3 - I like a slightly more streamlined comp which may reduce the impact of French teams who don't really put it in or weaker UK teams BUT arguably, the 6th placed team from France/Eng would be as "poor" as the Scottish team who may not qualify as a result so the impact on quality of the comp may not be of any magnitude

I would be vehemently opposed to straight, 6 from each league due to the impact it would have on Scot/Italian rugby (possibly - maybe they would focus, qualify and the impact would be good).

So - what about this.

1 - Guaranteed 2 from Ireland and Wales, 1 from Scotland and Italy.
2 - Remaining Rabo places decided on league placing?
This covers the league as "requested" by UK/Fra yet also ringfences the "weaker" nations placing somewhat.

The issue I may see here is that if you guarantee an Edinburgh who may not do well (notinglast year) and an Italian side and STILL reduce to 20 teams, it does give a big hand up to the groups in which those teams would appear.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Donny B. » August 23rd, 2012, 8:55 am

I have a issue with the idea that reducing to 20 teams would improve the quality of the competition.

At the moment only the group winners and two out of six runners-up qualify. A change to 20 teams would mean group winners and three out of five runners up, considerably improving the chances of qualifying and potentially robbing the tournament of the exciting final round of fixtures days when everyone is frantically adding up the points.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby blaker » August 23rd, 2012, 9:11 am

22 places are awarded by country, with each country deciding how to allocate their alloted places;

England: six teams (selected by performance in Aviva Premiership and Anglo-Welsh Cup)
France: six teams (selected by performance in Top 14 Championship)


Ireland: three teams (selected by performance in Pro 12)
Wales: three teams (selected by performance in Pro 12)
Scotland: two teams (selected by participation in Pro 12)
Italy: two teams (selected by participation in Pro 12)

So this would drop from 10 to 6 with the likely status quo being (conservatively) 2 from Ireland and 2 from Wales with a shake up between 1 Scot, 1 Irish and 1 Welsh team

Leaving aside the "cup winner" route (add an extra Irish team (given our win last year) Connacht and an extra French team (Amlin) the impact here going forward is the loss of one Welsh/Scottish team (probably Scarlets or Edinburgh), one Irish team (lets say Ulster) and 2 Italian teams.

If we are honest, the winner of teh HEC is going to come from a very small nucleus of sides, this is borne out by history and actual ability. Any given year there is probably 4/5 teams which can win (though this is getting smaller), 5/6 with designs on QF and a nub without a sniff unless in a handy group.
Fiddling round the edges with qualification does not greatly impact on the quality of the HEC in my view as Toulouse, Clermont, Munster, Leinster, Saints, Leicester etc will generally be top 4 regardless.

Does the loss of Zebre, Treviso, Glasgow, Scarlets dramatically improve quality? You coudl argue yest, you could argue no. Does it greatly impact on Italian rugby? Unquestionably.

I think a compromise along the lines of what I proposed whereby some element of merit is brought in but with ringfences for Scot/Ita would cover all bases

Clermont or Leinster still the 2 to beat next year - Plus ca change
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby sarah_lennon » August 23rd, 2012, 9:21 am

So the inclusion of Zebre, Glasgow, Llanelli and Treviso plays a role in how Leinster & Munster have dominated the competition? Leinster & Munster would have easily qualified every year, even if it was "merit based"

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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Donny B. » August 23rd, 2012, 9:21 am

Yes but you have to look beyond the winners to the overall health of the competition.

A 20 team HC with potentially 14 of the teams coming from England and France would effectively make it an Anglo-French cup in all but name.

It would also make it a significantly more boring competition as you'd have increased numbers of French v French and England v England clashes as groups with teams from the same nations would become considerably more commonplace. Anyone who watches the misery that is normal Top14 or AP fare would sigh at this and rightly so. The European cup is meant to provide variety. Gloucester v Glasgow may not be the most glamorous fixture but I'd still watch it ahead of Gloucester v Sale. As for the likes of Racing Metro v Castres, I doubt I'd watch that if it was on in my back garden.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby blaker » August 23rd, 2012, 9:30 am

I genuinely don't think this proposal in any way makes it more likely that an English or UK will win in terms of ability etc.
Naturally if you increase your representation (12 of 22 versus 12 of 18)proportinately your odds of winning increase.

Reducing to 4 groups of 5 or 5 groups of 4 would lead to more intra country clashes which are very rare currently which I think would deaden the nature of the tournament.

Nothing will convince me that there is not a subtext of a power-push or money grab or something else underlying this because a pragmatic view would clearly show that the proposed changes won't have all that material affect on the protaganists. Guess we'll see what that subtext is once it is all resolved
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Sauvignon Blank » August 23rd, 2012, 9:41 am

Sooner or later they are going to get their way unfortunately.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Fred Funk » August 23rd, 2012, 9:48 am

If the English want to have a level playing field then they would be better off concentrating on improving the way they play. Having more teams is not going to increase their chances. As for the French, how can they whinge when half their teams don't turn up for away games. The HEC is won by playing rugby.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby blaker » August 23rd, 2012, 9:53 am

Sauvignon Blank wrote:Sooner or later they are going to get their way unfortunately.


To be honest I wouldn't have a huge problem with them attaining some of their demands as I think they makes sense.
We are all put out by the way this ia being presented - ie, Irish teams/ML teams are no good and only win because they can put their feet up etc etc - and thats fair enough. Can anybody argue though that we do;
1 - prioritise the HEC
2 - rest players in the Rabo when it suits (and often when it doesn't though both are driven by IRFU rather than clubs)
3 - benefit from ring fenced qualification

I absolutely reject thenotion that we win Heino because of this but you can see the point. Edinburgh doing their thing last year unfortunately could not have come at a worse time.

I'll keep banging the drum for the hybrid allocated national spot/league qualification criteria as I think it covers all bases. It does not address the reduced size of teh comp though which I think is a far bigegr issue
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby totalrandomer » August 23rd, 2012, 10:26 am

Not sure I like the 20 team thing.

If this works and the English and French win both cups.

You could be looking at 4 of the five groups having only one Rabo team in them.

That's 4 unions with 6 teams in the HC and 2 Unions with 14 teams.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby RavenhillRaider » August 23rd, 2012, 10:44 am

ERC has one guiding ambition.
To lead European club rugby to unparalleled levels of popularity and profile...
Making a distinctive and significant contribution to the development and progression of rugby union.

The Heineken Cup is the most competitive club rugby tournament in the world.
The best clubs and players on a dynamic and compelling stage.
A Tournament that is the ultimate stage for elite European club rugby competition.
It acts as the platform upon which the best clubs, elite athletes
and passionate fans compete for glory and success.

The Amlin Challenge Cup, where premier and emerging clubs compete.
A tournament that is pushing the geographic boundaries of the game of rugby...
It represents a real opportunity for silverware and success on the European stage,
broadening the horizons of rugby in Europe - for clubs, players and fans.
A fundamental part of the story of European club rugby.

ERC - DRIVING EUROPEAN CLUB RUGBY COMPETITION


Key word there EUROPEAN. If the english/french push out the italians, i'd rather have a pro 12 cup. They have far too much influence on the competition already. If they want to reduce teams their allocation should be cut.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby blaker » August 23rd, 2012, 10:57 am

Thats an interesting point actually Ravenhill but how would you split it?

If you took one from UK and France each it leaves them with 10 between them. Rabo currently has 10 with 2 from PY winner HEC and Amlin or their league.

Ringfencing teh two prior year winners for now it leaves you with a possible 8 from Rabo in a 20 team league. Say 2 Irish, 2 Welsh, 1 Scot and 1 Italian are guaranteed it leaves 2 up for grabs to qualification. Perhaps if you removed auto-qual from Ireland and Wales OR dropped it to 1 for each of Ire/Wal/Sco/Ita then you could marry guaranteed comp for each nation AND an element (50%) of league position
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby RavenhillRaider » August 23rd, 2012, 11:09 am

They were looking to cut the no. of teams to 20 total, to have 4 pools of 5 with the top 2 progressing to the quarters. That would get rid of the farce of the 2 best of the rest scenario we have now, which usually goes to teams with italians in their pool. The PY hec cup and amlin cup winners would have to be included in their countries allocation for it to work.

But what i was trying to say was, without teams from at least each of the six nations, it wouldnt be a euro cup anymore.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Logorrhea » August 23rd, 2012, 11:10 am

The Anglo-French proposals will damage the European game, as its the two weakest unions (Scotland and Italy) that will be impacted the most. This is not in the interest of European rugby, and it would threaten the very survival of Rugby in Italy, Scotland and probably kill off two provinces in Ireland and Wales. At the same time, I'd imagine the greater share of significantly lower revenues for their Franglo cup would amount to no real gain at all (even if the Welsh jumped ship and went with them as expected).

Personally I think the the celtic (and Italian) unions need to take a good look at what is being suggested. They should look at threatening the 6 nations as a tournament if their domestic game is ripped to shreds.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby cormac » August 23rd, 2012, 11:23 am

RavenhillRaider wrote:They were looking to cut the no. of teams to 20 total, to have 4 pools of 5 with the top 2 progressing to the quarters. That would get rid of the farce of the 2 best of the rest scenario we have now, which usually goes to teams with italians in their pool. The PY hec cup and amlin cup winners would have to be included in their countries allocation for it to work.

But what i was trying to say was, without teams from at least each of the six nations, it wouldnt be a euro cup anymore.


They don't have the space in the calendar for 4 groups of 5 teams, their proposal would have 5 groups of 4.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Donny B. » August 23rd, 2012, 11:27 am

cormac wrote:
RavenhillRaider wrote:They were looking to cut the no. of teams to 20 total, to have 4 pools of 5 with the top 2 progressing to the quarters. That would get rid of the farce of the 2 best of the rest scenario we have now, which usually goes to teams with italians in their pool. The PY hec cup and amlin cup winners would have to be included in their countries allocation for it to work.

But what i was trying to say was, without teams from at least each of the six nations, it wouldnt be a euro cup anymore.


They don't have the space in the calendar for 4 groups of 5 teams, their proposal would have 5 groups of 4.


Especially if the lunatics in France increase their league to 16 teams and add four more games. Come to think of it, that was why they were initially suggesting reducing the HC to 20 teams, but if it doesn't decrease their fixtures then it doesn't hold much water.
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Munsterboy » August 23rd, 2012, 12:20 pm

Easy enough to only have six Rabo teams and still guarantee participation by all:

Highest finishing Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian teams (who have not already qualified by winning the previous year) automatically qualify.

Remaining two spots go to the highest finishing teams not already qualified.

So, this year we would have:

Leinster (cos they won the HEC)
Munster, Ospreys, Glasgow, Treviso (highest Irish, Welsh, Scot and Italian sides not already qualified)
Scarlets, Ulster (highest two not already qualified)

Could actually help to make both the Rabo and the Amlin more competitive but I still don't want a HEC dominated by English and French sides, especially given how mediocre so many of them are.

I say we offer to go to 7 teams (using the formula above for our qualification) and suggest that either England or France go to 5 with the other having 6. Let them fight among themselves over who takes the hit. Divide and conquer!
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Re: Sabre-rattling from Premiership Rugby again ...

Postby Peg Leg » August 23rd, 2012, 12:54 pm

Munsterboy wrote:Easy enough to only have six Rabo teams and still guarantee participation by all:

Highest finishing Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian teams (who have not already qualified by winning the previous year) automatically qualify.

Remaining two spots go to the highest finishing teams not already qualified.

So, this year we would have:

Leinster (cos they won the HEC)
Munster, Ospreys, Glasgow, Treviso (highest Irish, Welsh, Scot and Italian sides not already qualified)
Scarlets, Ulster (highest two not already qualified)

Could actually help to make both the Rabo and the Amlin more competitive but I still don't want a HEC dominated by English and French sides, especially given how mediocre so many of them are.

I say we offer to go to 7 teams (using the formula above for our qualification) and suggest that either England or France go to 5 with the other having 6. Let them fight among themselves over who takes the hit. Divide and conquer!

Acceptable that!
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