European deal draws closer as new seeding system is revealed

heineken ball

A report in the Daily Telegraph this morning has revealed that a new European accord could be signed as early as this week, with a revamped seeding system one of the features of the new tournament.

The new laws would see just three teams seeded – the winners of the three participant leagues (Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect PRO12) – with the rest of the teams on a level playing field and drawn out of a hat. There would be a mechanism in place to ensure that three French or English teams are not drawn in the same group.

Under current seeding rules, teams are separated by their historical record in the tournament, meaning that even if you finish in the lowest qualification place, but have a good record in Europe in the past few years, you will get a favourable seeding group. The new system is more in line with the meritocratic policy sought by the English and French clubs.

All other major hurdles are apparently close to being overcome. A new governing company will be established in Lucerne, Switzerland, with a deal expected to be signed by email by the end of the week. The deal for the new tournament structure will be in place for six years, with a two year notice period at the end.

Once in place, talks will begin over a new broadcasting deal that would see BT Sport and Sky Sports sharing the coverage in some way. This would replace the existing contracts signed by the rival broadcasters that have been causing so much friction.

It is also understood that the naming structure of the tournament could change, in order not to contain a title sponsor, falling more in line with football’s Champions League. Instead, several commercial partners could be involved.

Planning is also underway to fit in a two-legged play-off game at the end of the season for the seventh-placed English and French sides to determine who would take the 20th spot for the inaugural tournament next season, following the decision to scrap the ruling that says the previous year’s winner is automatically guaranteed a qualifying place. That would currently be a game between Wasps and Racing Métro.

Seven sides will qualify from the RaboDirect PRO12, including at least one guaranteed participant from Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy. After next season, the two best placed sides that do not automatically qualify will join the seventh-placed Premiership and Top 14 sides in a four-way play off system for that 20th place.

The pool stages will still be played in the October, December and January windows, but the quarter-finals could be brought forward to before the Six Nations with the final being played in April rather than May.

What do you make of the new proposals? Do you think it will make for a better tournament next year?

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

28 thoughts on “European deal draws closer as new seeding system is revealed

  1. So:
    Top 6 AP
    Top 6 T14
    7 Rabo
    + 1 play-off.

    With the 7 Rabo being the best of each nation and then the next best 3?

    With the play-off being between England and France this year, but England, France and 2 Rabo teams next year? Is this a pre-season game, similar to football’s qualifiers? Or will it take place during the league play-offs?

    I still think the previous winner should be guarunteed a place, even if it is at the expense of a higher qualifier from its own nation. Ie if an AP team wins the HC and finishes 9th, it will take the spot from the 6th place in the AP.

    And then 5 the tournament itself. 5 groups of 4? With 6 games and the top 1 and best 3 runners-up going through? Sounds quite like the system now which causes so much last day drama (in a good way!)

    The seeding system seems ridiculous though. What is the point of just seeding those three teams? It’s hardly like they’ll be avoiding that many top teams by receiving a seeding. Should just scrap it all together. If you end up with Leinster, Saracens, Clermont and Toulon in a group so be it. What a group that would be as well!

    Glad there is some resolution though, albeit still not a perfect tournament.

    1. The play-off games, as I understand it, will be scheduled to coincide with domestic play-offs. So more big end of season games. If you are scrapping for a top 7 place in the Premiership or a top 8 place in the Rabo I think it’s likely to mean more teams still in with a chance of getting something meaningful from their seasons as we go through March and April so helps bring more spice to the leagues as well.

      Not sure how they are going to align the French and non-French domestic calendars to make it work …. but as long as they can I don’t mind!

    2. The problem with guaranteeing the previous winner a place under the new rules is you could end up with the team that tops the Rabo Pro12 not getting into Europe.

      This would be barmy, given a significant focus of the changes was to ensure that teams had to prioritise domestic league performance to ensure they played european rugby.

      1. Also, by not guaranteeing a place for the HC winner, it means that teams can’t slacken off their domestic competition if they know they have a guaranteed spot if they’ve already secured a position due to them winning it.

        Imagine you have a team that wins the first year. They would *know* that they can basically ignore the next years’ domestic competition apart from relegation where applicable) and concentrate solely on the following years cup. Meanwhile all the other teams will have to be fighting fully on 2 fronts to a) progress in the European competition at the same time as trying to secure the qualification spots domestically for the following year.

        That was one of the fundamental issues with the HC as it stood. Certain teams who progressed to the knock-out stages knew that they could afford to de-prioritise the domestic competition and throw everything at the HC in the QFs and SFs, as they were guaranteed entry into the following year. Other teams at the same stages of the HC didn’t have that luxury, as they were having to fight fully on both fronts simultaneously if they wanted to get through the HC QFs AND qualify for the following years elite level.

        to be honest, I would’ve liked the winner of the Amlin (or whatever it will be) to get the final spot in the following year. It would’ve been a nice incentive. Plus, I hope they discontinue the dropping down of teams from the HC to the ACC level when you get to the knockout phase. Let the two competitions remain separate….

      2. This is wrong. I was forgetting about the “next 2” getting automatic qualification. Only one team gets through on play-offs.

        Still think it is a good idea.

  2. Wow, this Rabo + playoff thing is too complicated for my tiny little mind… what a horrible compromise.

    I like the new seeding approach – the old approach was tending to entrench things too much – if you had a good record, you got the weaker teams, so could continue with a good record … it took a lung busting effort to break into that no matter that you were better than the historically better teams.

    Overall I’m just glad there is a tournament. Now back to the more horrible mess that is Welsh regional rugby funding…. We’ll sort that one out ourselves, no need to look over the bridge/sea as it’ll severely bore you to tears.

    1. Please do keep us up to speed on the machinations within Welsh rugby Brighty. There’s something strangely comforting in watching sympathetically from a distance a mess that doesn’t even remotely involve us. Maybe you should seek help from Richie? he seems to have been the only one to behave like a grown up throughout the whole sorry european fiasco. We owe him a lot I think.

      1. Ha, Ray, can’t blame you for the Schadenfreude here. Once I have the vaguest clue what’s now going on I’ll see if I can put it into words and report back. Last I heard

        – Sam has a central contract. Nobody knows whether this means he will play for The Blues or not.
        – Everyone else offered a central contract rejected it.
        – Roger Lewis still thinks the best option is to bankrupt the clubs, swoop in and make some sort of 3 region system, possibly 2 in South Wales and 1 in the North. In the North. Because in 120 years of amateur rugby they created 0 top flight clubs so now we give the football fans up there 1/3rd of our pro rugby resources … laughable.
        – The clubs still think the best option is for Roger to hand over more of their money and they can at least work with decent squads. Not French style finances, but at least Ire/Sco parity.

        Nobody agrees with each other. Everyone is threatening to go to the edge to take down the other. No season tix on sale for next year yet. Players haven’t a clue what they’re playing in next year… Mess upon mess upon mess ….

  3. Everything I’ve read on this subject over the last few days is hugely encouraging:
    – The obvious point of having European rugby to look forward to!
    – 3*20 with 2 qualifiers from 3rd tier making it into the next seasons tier 2. Excellent! Helps grow the game and will make tier 1 & 2 coverage more marketable.
    – Breaking away from Dublin, things had got too incestuous there. The farce of the ERC withholding payments, due to concerns over their financial security next year if they didn’t have a competition to run, shows how that body had completely lost perspective.
    – The play-offs. Big money games at the end of a season for more teams (without extending the duration of the season)
    – The governance, run by the stakeholders who have investment in the game (leagues and unions), everybody wins if the revenues grow.

    Be very interested to know how much of this progress had been down to Ritchie continuing to pursue a solution whilst everyone else continued with the Simpsons electric shock aversion therapy approach. I was really sceptical on recruiting a guy from Tennis, but he seems to be the best thing that’s ever happened to the RFU.

    1. Thoroughly agree with the comments about Ritchie. He got a bit of stick for sitting on the fence to start with, but he was absolutely right. He was the only one without an entrenched position when the negotiations started. Blimey, I never thought that I would praise an English rugby administrator!

      Just delighted a deal has been done and we will have European rugby next season!

  4. If only they could have agreed this 18 months ago instead of wasting time being petty and bickering.

    Not sure why they have changed the seeding, I never saw too much trouble with it as most of the top teams can beat each other anyway, not team really got a easy draw. Also seems strange to only seed 3 teams, surely if one team is seeded then the rest should be just at different levels?

    My issue was more with how a team like Zebre were guaranteed a place every year. Thankful that has been sorted.

    The only thing that I don’t see as fair, unless I’ve understood it wrong, is how after next year the Pro12 could have 8 teams and are guaranteed 7. Surely they should have 6 qualify and the next two should go into the play-offs with the teams from England and France and then the top two in those play-offs qualify. Or is that what is going to happen anyway and I’ve just misunderstood it?

    1. But if the 8th or 9th best Rabo side beats the 7th best English and French sides it’s hard to argue they aren’t worth their place.

      With the 4 Rabo nations all gauranteed at least one place (good decision, you don’t want televisions being turned off as there’s no participant from your nation involved) to only guarantee 2 places beyond that would make it incredibly tough. It would mean that some teams finishing in top 6 of the Rabo wouldn’t get a space (as top Italian side finishing outside top 6 is probable). This seems a sensible compromise.

  5. I do not understand the comment for the 7th place play off position “That would currently be a game between Wasps and Racing Métro.” Exeter are 8th and surely would jump ahead of Wasps as winners of the LV? So sake would be deemed in 7th or is it that LV and Amlin winners do not qualify any more for this new competition? Confused!

  6. So, given these conditions, the 20 for this year would have been:

    (I assume Seeds are Play-off winners, not side that tops the table):

    England: Leicester (Seeds), Saracens, Harlequins, Northampton, Gloucester, Exeter (Bath to Play-off)
    France: Castres (Seeds), Clermont Auvergne, Toulon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Racing Metro(Perpignan to play-off)
    Ireland: Leinster (Seeds), Ulster, Munster
    Scotland: Glasgow
    Wales: Scarlets, Ospreys
    Italy: Benetton Treviso

    Basically missing from this year would have been Edinburgh, Zebre, Connacht and Cardiff Blues (and maybe Bath replacing Perpignan after a play-off).

    In theory, Leicester, Saracens, Toulon and Clermont Auvergne could all have been in the same group while another group could well have been Castres, Glasgow, Ospreys and Benetton Treviso….


  7. The seeding is only to be used in determining the pools. The qualification for the competition will be on merit of this season’s table standings. Question is will lower than 7th place English winners of the LV and Amlin get automatic qualification?

    1. Haven’t read anything that indicates this to be the case, so I guess we should assume not.

      Given that LV= is anglo welsh it should have no bearing on european competition.
      Given that previous champions will not get an automatic place it is reasonable to assume that the winner or a second tier competiion will not either.

    2. Does this take place currently? If it did I have no idea about it. And they certainly won’t moving forward by the looks of it.

      Heineken qualification will be based purely on league position – good decision IMO.

  8. Strangely it all appears rather sensible doesn’t it? I must be missing something.

    No doubt Don P will be along soon 2 txt evry1 about h0w the NPC worx far betta

  9. Hi all. i’m glad this is all moving in the right direction, but with regards to the play-offs this year, from what i have read there will be a home and away game between a french and english club. However, it is not stated when they will occur. if they take place on same dates as the prem playoffs/final (17th weekend and 31st may) due to the heiniken cup final, then won’t that be potentially another bunch of england players not eligible for the first nz test? Just wondering how it all fits in with everything else

  10. Some of this agreement is plain daft, and why has the erc just rolled over and given in to the bullies ? Can someone please explain how by reducing the number of teams taking part that on the other hand you are’growing the tournament’ , complete nonsense. Why do many of the bloggers on here , mainly english it has to be said , have such a problem with the scots and italians having a fair and equal chance in this ‘new’ competition, surely the recent 6 n tournament should convince real rugby folk that these countries need real help with their professional game. What happens if the irish provinces continue to dominate the competition in the coming years, do the english come back in 4 or 5 seasons time and demand another new system. Have a play off system alright which has four teams but one each from romania and georgia and a second team from scotland and italy , that is how you would grow the game and spread the rugby gospel. I mean look at the current champions league format in football where at present no more than just 3 or at the most 4 clubs have any realistic chance of winning the thing out and this i fear is the road that club rugby in europe is heading down. The e r c should have let the english clubs go for a year or two and they would have come crawling back as they did in 1999 -2000 . when the money ran out. A number of years back certain people wanted france and england to leave the 6 n because they were ‘far superior’ to the other teams but the powers that be held firm and sense prevailed so pity same didn t happen here. It is nothing more than greed and the persuit of financial riches and the ultimate victim in all of this farce will be the great sport of rugby union itself.

    1. We’ll have to let time be the judge, but I think this is one of the biggest steps forward in the growth of the European game (if the reports are correct and we get 3*20 next year). Also if this is going to put £1m a year extra into the Welsh regions I think it’s excellent news and will help the regions become more competitive. More money, equally shared, what’s not to like?

      The final nail in the ERC coffin was their decision to withhold payments to this year’s competitors. Ridiculous that they could put there own commercial risks ahead of the needs of the teams, this showed where their true priorities were. Self interest, self preservation and taking money out of the game.

      You mention fair deals for the Italians, what hasn’t been good for Italian rugby is Treviso having to pay (£ or €)2.5m a season for the privilege of playing in the Pro 12, if this isn’t a perfect example of the haves taking from the have nots I don’t know what is. They also had to withdraw from a tournament to get a fair deal, I hope their re-inclusion as equal partners is now going to really help their development and not just subsidise the Irish.

      It is unfathomable that a proposal that made perfect sense (everyone benefits) could not be negotiated over such a long period of time within the ERC. I’m sure attitudes, egos and behaviours of some of the English owners have not helped, but what they were saying made sense. It’s great that everything they’ve proposed seems to have been accepted as the way forwards and I’m hopeful this will prove a defining moment in the growth of the game within Europe.

    2. Poor old johne still struggling to understand the facts of life. Reducing the teams taking part? Slightly fewer in the top tier but an extra 20 teams in the new 3rd level competition providing new opportunities for the wider game across europe. Just what Irish supporters would want isn’t it johne?

      Play without England for a year or so and they’ll come crawling back? well erc tried that until they realised that without England their much vaunted TV deal was a dead duck and they were facing bankruptcy. So we have an improved competition with more money for all shared equally. More teams from more countries are involved in meaningful competitions. The Rugby Champions Cup is alive and well and living in Switzerland. what’s not to like johne?

      In the abscence of a name sponsor maybe we should call the competition the Richie Cup to recognise the debt we all owe him for sorting out the mess. This would no doubt be fully supported by the Celtic Unions as he saved them from financial disaster.

  11. Lord it’s gas really reading some of the stuff on here. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me exactly how reducing the number of teams and increasing their fiancial clout is expanding the game, so just throw more money at the bigger teams and ring fence the main competition and what do you know but you are suddenly expanding the game, what rubbish. Well ok heres a proposal that will hopefully upset the hell out of all the big teams in ireland . england , france and wales. . let”s have a gauranteed place for a club from a second tier rugby nation i.e. romania or georgia or russia , then work a seeding system in reverse where by the 2 lowest seeded teams in the main competition would get double points for their pool games, i.e. 8 points for a win. This would then give a club from the above mentioned countries or even italy or scotland a very realistic chance of progressing in the competition and above all it would help to attract better players and more resources to the clubs involved without having to break the bank . Just imagine a team from romania winning 2 of their pool games and having 16 points to show for it and on the brink of the q finals . That is how you start to grow the game in the weaker nations , and what i hear the cry that the likes of a munster or wasps or toulon or bath would end up in such a group with these teams well i say , tough to the big boys. This proposal will no doubt enrage many of the usual suspects on here as it will hurt the pockets of of the big clubs but who cares lol. Would love to see the double points system for the lowest seeded teams as this really would throw the cat among the pigeons which is exactly what we should be looking for to promote the sport.

    1. You are suggesting turning the European competition into exhibition matches between pro and semi pro teams. People won’t turn up to watch it, people won’t turn on to watch it. This isn’t how to grow the game. More teams involved competitive fixtures has to be the answer.

      If a professional league divides the total income as follows (how it’s currently done as I understand it)

      (tier 1 comp income + tier 2 comp income)/number of participating teams

      Then growing the total revenue benefits all teams, the top comp going from 24 to 20 teams is irrelevant, it’s the total that matters. The haves at the top of the leagues are far less reliant on European TV money than the have nots at the bottom of the league (as it makes a smaller percentage of their income). This helps narrow the gap between top and bottom.

      Time will be the judge, but as the ERC have made a complete mess of things the last couple of years I’m sure it can only get better.

    2. This is one of the most ludicrous ideas I’ve ever heard.

      So you want teams from Romania (who are semi-pro) to play against professional athletes that are the best in the northern hemisphere? They’ll get battered. Nobody will watch and it will have an adverse effect on growing the game. Not only that, the double points idea is so bad it hurts my head to think how you have come up with it. How on earth is a team from Romania going to win pool games to make the points system even relevant? And why on earth should any team, in any sport be given extra points for anything other than merit? This is international sport.

      These lower ranked, semi-pro teams are being given an excellent opportunity to play european wide rugby, on merit. These teams will be given far more exposure by playing in this system. What has happened to Treviso over the past couple of seasons has had an adverse effect on their development. They’ve played against the top teams in Europe and been smashed by 50-60 points. How does that help them?

  12. Sometimes words just aren’t enough! Still I should have known better than to respond to the terminaly deluded.

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