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.