English and Celtic sides set for Heineken Cup showdown

The honours board does not lie. With five Irish successes in the last seven years, English and French sides have begun to have enough of their rivals dominance of the competition, based on envy of the way they are able to rest key players for key matches in a domestic competition that not only holds no relegation, but guarantees a Heineken Cup place for the majority of sides participating – only Newport Gwent Dragons missed out last season.

The current structure of both Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups was created back in 2007, when according to The Daily Telegraph after five years each of the organisations involved would be able to give notice that they wanted to leave and begin a two-year period to come up with a new agreement between all parties.

The proposed changes in the same Telegraph report consist of reducing the overall number of teams involved to 20, with six from the Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect Pro12, plus the winners of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup from the previous season. The rest would play in the Amlin Challenge Cup, with the final two spots going to leading sides from Tier Two nations such as Spain or Russia.

It means that the Heineken Cup would be extremely unlikely to feature Italian sides – Aironi are now defunct and to be replaced whilst Treviso performed well in patches but were 20 points off the top six – which undoubtedly would be backward step in the ongoing and draining development of Italian Rugby. Having a leading European competition without representation from each of the countries involved would seem wrong, but with the competition currently uneven given the fact that the majority of teams who face Italian sides tend to come away with maximum points, a solution has to be found.

The timing of move however is what stands against Premier Rugby. Following a season where only one of the six English sides – Saracens – progressed to the quarter-finals and with the most recent winner being London Wasps in 2007. Accusations of bleating will naturally ensue but Premier Rugby’s smoke is not without fire. With backing from the LNR – the organisation that run the Top 14 – the weight of two against one may leave the Celtic sides in a difficult position. The war of politics is imminent. You have been warned.


23 thoughts on “English and Celtic sides set for Heineken Cup showdown

  1. If this goes ahead, they should really look at a third tier competition to slot in between Challenge cup and B&I, where the winner of this third tier comp would enter the Amlin the following year. In theory it could allow you to have teams from Germany/Romania/Spain/Etc competing at a competitive level, through in some if the top Pro D2 and RFU Championship teams and it helps develop the game across Europe.

  2. ”the weight of two against one may leave the Celtic sides in a difficult position. The war of politics is imminent. You have been warned”.

    It isn’t 2 against 1, its 2 against 4. The votes for the six unions are 2 each france, england and wales gave 1 vote to there clubs

    So if the english union and clubs along with the french union and clubs vote for change thats 4 votes against 8

    if wales are split clubs vote in favour thats still 5 votes against 7

    italy and scotland wont vote to lose places and the irish who where instrumental in bringing in the italians into the pro 12 wont vote against them to hurt the new teams
    and the welsh union vote wont go against the other unions in the pro 12.

    so final vote 5 against 7 stick with the status quo

    bye bye french and english clubs, we’ll invite your championship and pro d2 clubs instead.

    1. “bye bye french and english clubs, we’ll invite your championship and pro d2 clubs instead.”

      Well fine, but also say bye, bye to audiences, crowds and of course, any TV money

      1. What Paolo said. Take away the English and French and you essentially have another Rabo. There will have to be some form of solution.

      2. dont get me wrong i dont want to see the best english and french leaving but I cant see an alternative to what’s already in place, record crowds year on year, rising sponsorship, more tv coverage and you can still pick toulouse, leinster, leicster, munster, toulon, northampton, clermont, sarries, quins and ulster who have depth in there squad to go and win it, yet they want to change it, leave it as it is its working the only reason a french or english side hasnt won for a couple of years is because leinster are just stupidly good but that wont always be the case and like i said in my first post italy, scottish and irish unions wont vote for any change, why would turkeys vote for christmas.

        1. Exactly, it won’t change much at the top. Some clubs in France and the UK may follow the Leinster formula with significant numbers of top-tier national side players in the team, but French clubs seem more interested in turning the Top 14 into the equivalent of the English football premier league. I’d agree with people belittling Leinsters achievements if they hadn’t been so convincing in all the important games. Every dog has it’s day. In the football world, Barcelona and Real Madrid employ a lot of home grown talent and it works for them – not every year but it gives you players that gel and have passion. Together with good management, that is devastating to opposing teams. If the new system went into effect for the 2011/2012 season, the outcome wouldn’t have been very different I think. Still the same big name sides, as long as they are still big name sides. It would effect Italian teams badly – all 1~2 of them, and Scottish teams would be effected.

          Ospreys, Saracens, Harlequins,Edinburgh?, Northampton, Leinster, Ulster, Toulouse, Clermont etc. would still be the ones to watch. And lets not forget the golden formula of #10. Pienaar and Sexton playing in a final is not very surprising. When it comes down to it, you need to kick your penalties and conversions, regardless of structure.

  3. “which undoubtedly would be backward step in the ongoing and draining development of Italian Rugby”

    How have Italian clubs developed over the last 5 years? Maybe, just maybe they would be more competative in their league if they needed to qualify. And with that kind of regular competativeness we might see some devlopment, more than the odd shick victory or close loss we currently see in HC.

    “bye bye french and english clubs, we’ll invite your championship and pro d2 clubs instead”

    So what would be the point of the HC if it is simply a re-run of the rabo direct?

  4. It would be terrible for all Celtic teams if the English and french teams left the HC. England and France both have more fans to put bums on seats and rugby is watched more at home. With the two biggest financial powers leaving the competition it would become unsustainable. A lot of teams would lose the cash injection from the HC too. This would result in smaller squads and a bigger reliance on winning the rabo pro. Even the mighty Leinster and Munster would struggle to stay in the black financially as a team. It would be a big shock to Irish rugby if they folded, not to mention welsh rugby where the regions are struggling to draw crowds anyway.
    Of course it is biased, which anyone can see. Just look at the difference in teams put out by celtic sides in the rabo pro 12 and the HC. Edinburgh practically played their development 15 for the rabo once they had progressed in the poolsof the HC.
    Anyone who watches top 14 or premiership rugby must surely see the stars of English and french clubs are on show all the time, week in, week out.
    The Celtic teams probably wouldn’t be able to compete either if they had the pressure of relegation and to produce results. There probably wouldn’t be as many players wrapped in cotton wool for the season then.

  5. A competitive Rabo would be unlikely to be a factor in ending Leinster’s dominance. They are simply good at the moment. In five years another team will take their place. The premiership and Top14 teams need to be patient or step up to the plate.

  6. I think the top six in the Rabo for qualify for HC is a much better idea. just the same as top 4 play offs it keeps games interesting right to the end and you don’t get teams like Edinburgh in the semis of HC finishing 11th out of 12 in the Rabo!

    The current system is too distorted giving easy and hard pools. Leinsters this year being a good example. If the numbers are reduced to 20 will it be four pools of five teams and top two go through to knock out?

  7. France work on their style of play in top 14 which has gone very one dimensional, england has a salary cap, how does this effect HC they could have start players just for HC if they wanted isn’t that what they think leinster does wrap their stars up just for HC . england should have a match day 22 salary cap which allows them have larger squads but only able to play a team of certain value each match like fantasy rugby. might solve all the problems still let smaller clubs in premiership compete because they will have to play week in week out but won’t have the same drain by the internationals. maybe this is an answer it really should stay a european comp

  8. It’s no contest for Irish sides at the moment really. There is only one serious challenger from Wales – Ospreys, and 1 from Scotland – Edinburgh, and both lack the ERC savvy of Irish sides. There are great players in both those UK regions but they lack the depth of players available in the republic, as evidenced by having 2 Irish teams in the quarter finals (as is often the case): Munster and Leainster, to mix with the Brit and French teams.

    Leinster have the greatest depths of the Irish provinces at the moment which is unsurprising as it has the highest population.

    Leinster had to beat the cream of French, and British teams home and away to set up a legacy that is so powerful, that it is sure to bring in changes.

    The rules of the ERC are not changing to end any “unfair” (read: loser) complaints from rival British and French teams.

    The rules are changing to end Irish dominance, and that’s flattering! It might even work too, as the pendulum surely swings and perhaps Irish teams won’t be as strong by the time these changes come in.

    However, I don’t think Irish teams are going anywhere anytime soon, with record numbers of young players – more young players than Wales, Scotland and Italy combined!!

    2/3 top Pro 12 sides were Irish this year.

    In 2010/2011, it was 3/3 top sides with a Leinster, Munster Ulster 123 if you include the North, and this pattern is common in recent years..

    The Republic when added to the North has far more young players and far more depth than any of these other “Celtic” nations.

    1. Oh, and Re: “English and Celtic sides set for Heineken Cup showdown”

      The showdown has come and gone. Lesinter and Ulster, and Munster before that won in all these duals. It’s the next showdown in a new era that will be a new thing. This era cannot be erased. Efforts will be made, but like quick sand, it will just prove how dominant Irish sides were in this era, that it is felt efforts need to be made to cheapen and belittle the marvellous achievements of Irish club sides, and I might add in a stylish manner not seen before with clubs from any other country or region.

      1. Tolouse might have something to say about that!

        Probably also worth mentioning that if the french or english packed all of their best players into the top three clubs think it would be a very different story.

        1. It’s much more than just players. It’s how they gel, style of play, coaching staff etc. Nobody has matched Leinster in that regard lately. They may do, but they haven’t yet. When it comes down to it, I’m not convinced there is a full back in Europe than can match Leinsters, or forwards that can match the likes of Ferris, and Healy. I haven’t yet seen a 10 as consistent as Sexton in Europe who can run at players in that way. Ifs buts and maybes don’t win you cups. Leinster won’t dominate forever. Rest easy!!

  9. Stop referring it to as a country packing all their best players into three clubs. This is suggesting that each country has a magical quota of players. The irish players that are “packed into three clubs” are trained and taught in those provinces. Each simply has a far better academy system than English clubs. They produce these players.

  10. That is absolute BS. How come the Irish provinces can’t produce more than one prop who can play at international level? The argument is that those top three Irish provinces have a far bigger catchment area for their academies. If the English academy system is as bad as you say it is, how have Saracens, quins, wasps and London Irish managed to develop players like Joseph, Farrell, robshaw, wade all from the same area. Leinster has the whole of Dublin to poach from, hence they’re more likely to unearth some class talent. I’d even say the falcons academy was on par if not better than leinsters.

  11. Whatever about changing the rules in a few years Leinster are just a class above every other team on the continent at the moment and will be for the next few years no “excuses”. At least the French and English unions have plenty of time to get their excuses in order for next year. HC final in Dublin 2013? oh dear the excuse making will be bordering on hyperbole when Leinster crush all before them again next year and take the title :-)

  12. You’d really put your money on leinster to win another already? They ran out of puff against the ospreys in the rabo final. Not as invincible as you think. To be honest the biggest factor in leinsters success is Joe Shmidt. He’s brought a super rugby style of attack to Europe and the rest of the teams need to catch up. They move the ball fabulously, every player from 1 to 15 has the ability to move the ball into space. I would love to see leinster play quins or the tigers on current form. That would be one hell of a game to watch.

    1. “They ran out of puff against the ospreys in the rabo final.”

      Quite literally. Many first team players were predicted to be bruised and battered after the Ulster game ( a game that made Leinster a little better than they are). It was expected that the Ospreys would win it, even though it was away from home. Same thing happened last year – Leinster expected to beat Munster and lost ..

      I personally don’t think Leinster will win next year. 3 in a row is ridiculously unlikely. I’m sure the other significant rugby provinces in Ulster and Munster would have something to say about that. I can see Clermont, Toulouse, Ulster, Harlequins, Ospreys, Munster, Edinburgh, and others having a say in it.

      Leinster will be the team every other team wants to lay the smack-down on as they’re sick of them winning.

      I’d back Ulster and I’m Republican Irish BTW. I would never cheer for Ulster even though I quite like Ferris and Best. Paddy Wallace was excellent in the lead up and assist for the Ulster try. I think they’re improving every year they have what it takes to win it. But I think everyone’s sick of Irish domination in the ERC. Irish teams have won it 5 out of the last 7 years. It’s dominated by French, English and Irish sides so maybe a Welsh or a Scottish winner would be nice for a change seeing as no club from either of those places has won it yet. Some day there will be an Italian winner.

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