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