French to desert Rugby Champions Cup and pledge allegiance to ERC

At a hotel near Orly airport, just outside of Paris, the LNR may today have condemned the Premiership clubs to a future, for next season at least, without European rugby. According to reports from French site RugbyRama, the LNR (Ligue Nationale de Rugby, the French equivalent of Premiership Rugby), after a vote, have decided to back the ERC-run Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups and renege on their decision to form a breakaway tournament with the English ‘rebels’. They now have until the end of February to convince the English clubs to join in too, otherwise the competition will go ahead without them – just as it did in 1999.

In a tiresome and seemingly never-ending saga, it is the biggest blow yet to Premiership Rugby who had, until now, always had the backing of LNR and the (majority of) French clubs. Interestingly, it seems it was far from a unanimous decision. According to the article, Racing Métro president, a staunch advocate of the Rugby Champions Cup, stormed out of the meeting, ‘considerably annoyed’.

So what now? The FFR appear to have got their way, after offering the French clubs a considerable sum of money to stick with the Heineken Cup, but what form will that competition take next season? It seems highly unlikely the English clubs will swallow their pride and return to an ERC-led competition, even if it means sitting out of European competition for a year. Their deal with BT to broadcast the Rugby Champions’ Cup now also seems rushed and ill-advised, seeing as BT have now effectively bought the rights to a competition that will not exist. Where do they go from here? Do they look towards South Africa, as has been mooted in some parts? As good a spectacle as that would be, it hardly seems feasible with the amount of rugby already being played in a long and arduous season.

Without the English clubs competing, it seems unlikely the French clubs will give their all in the Heineken Cup. Several have been guilty in the past of fielding weakened sides and prioritising the Top 14, which is worth a lot more financially to the owners, in the past anyway. It will surely mean there will be no qualification system at all in the RaboDirect PRO12 – what effect will that have on the quality of the league?

Whatever happens, it would seem that any European tournaments taking place next year will be shadows of those we have known and loved for the past decade and more.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

50 thoughts on “French to desert Rugby Champions Cup and pledge allegiance to ERC

  1. Well this is awkward….

    Not too sure what English Rugby can do now. Can they return after a years exile?

    It’s all gone a bit crazy now; the fact that this BT deal has been signed just showed naivety on all sides.

    1. In 95-96 the SRU and RFU didn’t permit their clubs to enter, and so they took a year out. 98-99 English clubs didn’t compete because of a dispute between the RFU and ERC. Not quite the same circumstances, but still…

      1. Must depend to a certain degree to how the BT deal pans out. If PRL form some sort of alternative tournament, for which the rights have been bought by BT for X number of years, it will be at least that long before we see the English clubs back in the Heineken Cup proper. Shambles.

        1. The BT thing is major. Does anyone know all the details of the deal?

          What happens if there is no comp? Do BT get their money back?

          What happens if the PRL do go back to the Heineken (unlikley), but do Sky or BT get the games? I’d assume Sky?

  2. What can you say? The LNR promised to back the RCC – I am guessing that PRL can never negotiate anything in the future with LNR (can they be trusted?)

    There will be those who view the PRL is shitbags who have broken the trust of the ERC and therefore have got their just desserts. I don’t share that view; they negotiated for a number of years, then resigned, are serving out their time and set in motion an attempt to set up an alternative tournament – none of which is illegal or unfair (in my opinion). The chest thumping was, of course, embarrassing and patronising.

    God I hope the PRL don’t go back to the ERC – the humiliation would be unbearable. I think I would then abandon the club game and burn my Glos shirt in shame. If you say you are going to leave and strike out on your own – then do it.

    Please PRL; you have burnt your bridges, find an alternative to crawling back to the ERC – expand the premiership, do a deal with South Africans. Just don’t go back.

    1. Well crawling back will be a bitter pill to swallow, but can it really be in the long term interests of the game to stay out?

      1. Oh God Matt I don’t know! I trusted my club and they are part of the PRL. Now the PRL look more and more like a bunch of bullshit merchants who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. We Glos fans are having a shitty season anyway but you stick with it thinking that you believe that your club is run competently. Then this happens and I begin to think that the PRL are idiots and begin to think “whats the point?!”

  3. I’m assuming PRL/BT will be fairly advanced in their thinking around contingency plans (bumping the premiership up to 14 teams seems to be the easiest short term solution to fill a season), expect we’ll get some plan B announcements fairly soon.

    I hope egos/pride and broadcast rights don’t block the English going back in to the ERC but I fear they will. So sadly we still look like a scenario of everyone losing, just some losing more than others.

  4. “In a tiresome and seemingly never-ending saga” – extremely well said.

    Depressing shenanigans all round. The whole lot of them – PRL, FFR, WRU, IRFU, etc. need their heads smashing together. They’ve ruined next season and also had a nasty effect on this season as it’s all being played under a cloud. PRL asked for this to be sorted 2 years ago so can’t blame them for these last minute moves (though, as Nick C rightly pointed out, their chest thumping was embarrassing, they need to find a very large hole to hide Mark McAfferty and various PRL club owners in).

    Looks like whatever we end up with next year is going to be rubbish.

    1. One thing everyone can agree on – too many PRL mouthpieces are w@nkers.

      I feel sorry for the Welsh regions, they signed up for this idiots crusade and now have been let down – I hope relations with the WRU are still good

      1. “I hope relations with the WRU are still good”

        Ha ha, good one Nick!

        Regions and WRU hate each other. Always have and always will I think.

  5. Must admit to a touch of schadenfreude, as a grass-roots rugby man I hate our game being sold to the highest bidder

    1. Perhaps it is a time to reconnect with the grass roots Roy. On a slightly separate note I saw the cheapest tickets for the Twickenham matches at the RWC in 2015 and was almost sick they were so expensive (Remember the Rugby League world cup tickets were 10 pounds in many venues!)

      1. Too true NickC, for years I used to go to every international at Twickenham and also many away games but they have priced me out of the market and I am now stuck with pay TV as much as I hate the concept. Let me cheer you up with a personally satisfying memory of getting into Twickenham for the last World Cup final in 1991 by passing over one genuine ticket kindly lent by an Australian with a £20 note hidden beneath it. The steps were hard to sit on but I got to see the match.

  6. I agree with most of the comments here, but have to say that I saw this ambush coming a mile off , especially after the recent English excluded meeting. Therefore I would expect the Pro breakaway parties to have also expected this and have some sort of reaction prepared. If this is the case I am intrigued to see what their next step is, especially since it sounds like the French meeting was far from unanimous. Putting my intigue aside,this whole thing is awful and all concerned have approached the situation poorly imo.

    1. With Racing’s Lorenzetti ‘storming out’ of the meeting, could we see a split in the French ranks?? Since they prefer to be in a competition with the English, perhaps some of the TOP 14 would jump to a PRL/SA competition?

      1. Agreed, there is a lot of tv money flying around here, I wonder if BT will muddy the situation more by stumping up more cash, I for one will not subscribe to sky sports without English teams in the tournament

        1. This is an interesting point, how many (English) people will drop sky if they can’t see the English clubs? I suspect this could be quite a few.

          1. Not just English, at the moment the welsh regions are still backing the break away league, it will be interesting to see if the welsh English and some of the French teams stick to their guns. Another issue is the future if the Rabo direct league , if no changes occur to the current set up then it’s games will just be vessels for blooding new players and giving practice to the Heineken cup players ( as it currently is)

  7. I just noticed that the regions are still keen on the RCC – Anglo Welsh league on BT next season perhaps? That wouldn’t be a bad alternative – I could go to some away matches for a change.

  8. So no English teams in the knock out stages of the Heineken Cup next year? No change there then! ;-) I think I echo the thoughts of everyone on this side of the Irish Sea when I use the carefully chosen words of Nelson from the Simpsons; “Ha ha!”

    For months I watched the presenters on BT Sport gloat at Sky Sports and crow how the Celtic clubs would have to “see sense”. I tell you what we’ll see next season. Stadia full to the brim with passionate fans watching games between Leinster and ASM Clermont Auvergne, between Munster and Stade Toulousain and between Ulster and RC Toulon. Which is a damn site more that will be seen on BT Sport!

    Sky have been good for European Rugby, The Heineken Cup has been great for European Rugby. What fool thought that the Unions, fans and players across Europe would want to abandon that at the behest of the owners of Bath and Saracens?! I hope the English club owners see sense and that we’ll see great clubs like Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints and Harlequins back competing at the highest level in Europe where they money and places (as already has been conceded let’s not forget) are divided evenly between the three leagues.

    But the owners of the English clubs first have to lose their swagger and swallow their pride first for the sake of the English rugby fans. PLR has burnt many bridges over the past six months.

    This just adds some extra spice to the upcoming fixtures. Can’t wait for Norhtampton v Leinster in Franklin’s Gardens on 7 December.

    Le H Cup n’est pas mort. Vive le H Cup!

    1. So if the English do come back into the fold are the offers of changing the qualification criteria for the Heineken cup going ahead ? If so I don’t think you will be so comfortable in your assumptions, if not then the whole thing remains a fiasco.

      1. And we shouldn’t forget who started this whole mess – the ERC! By sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring the issues the English and French had two years ago (perhaps coming up with a compromise that suited all parties), teams on both sides of the divide are now going to suffer.

      1. And if my French is correct, they also want a new body to govern the competition (not ERC) by the 2015/16 season and want the FFR to push for it. They see next season as being a transition.

  9. Irish/Leinster rugby fan here. Really disappointed it has come to this. Didn’t really like the grandstanding of some of the self serving club owners in England and France. They had no interest in the advancement of the game, glad they’ve had their asses kicked.

    Having said that, it will be a huge loss for rugby fans from all nations that we won’t have the likes of Leicester, Saints or Quins in Europe next year. Robshaw, for one, should always be playing in the elite imho.

    The people with the money always ruin it for the normal folk.

  10. From the Guardian

    “They (LNR) said they were prepared to sign a new accord to take part in the Heineken Cup but on two conditions. The first was that the English clubs were willing to participate and the second was that a new body be set up in place of ERC to run it. A complication was that the clubs talked about the change not happening until the 2015-16 campaign and that next season in Europe would be a transitional one.

    That raised the prospect of English clubs going without European competition next season but the chief executive of Premiership Rugby, Mark McCafferty, did not rule out participating in an ERC tournament for one final year. “If we can see there is a new structure to replace ERC and we have the detail of that, then something might be feasible,” he said.

    The president of the LNR, Paul Goze, denied his clubs had “gone into reverse gear” and added that, if their two conditions were met by February, they would agree to play from 2015-16 in two 20-team tournaments, currently the Heineken and Amlin Challenge cups, with the proceeds divided equally between the three leagues that supply teams to them: the Top 14, Premiership and Pro 12.”

  11. If the Guardian piece is correct then we may still have a full HEC next year and beyond and we can put all of this rubbish from the last 18 months aside. It really has been the most boringly divisive issue I’ve come across.

    Also, if it is true then every single PRL/LNR demand at the outset has been met. ERC will be replaced, the HEC will be down to 20 teams based on equal qualification from leagues, revenue split on a league, not union basis. Every single demand. Have the celtalian unions managed to get a single concession out of the French and English?

    Congratulations to the Irish et al on their “victory” today. You really showed those arrogant English

  12. NickC and Hedley have this saga spot on in my view. All the issues that the French Top 14 and English premiership clubs had re the H’ken Cup have been met with the exception that the ERC hasn’t been replaced. To me, the ERC’s power has been significantly underminded to the point that it is only being reactiv to circumstances. I can see the English teams playing next season, in the knowledge that the Top 14 and premiership teams will still be pushing for the H’ken and Aviva Cups being not run by the ERC. Where the english clubs have a problem is in relation to the tv broadcasting deal that they have with BT Sport, but I can see this being deferred for 12 months whilst full details of a non ERC run H’ken Cup are ironed out for the ’15-’16 season.
    It is also noticeable that the Top 14 teams are split in relation to the H’ken cup going forward and that the majority who voted in favour of the ERC continuing to run it next season were brided by the FFR.
    I think that this saga has a fair way to role yet and that there will be new H’ken and Amlin Cups for the ’15-’16 season.

    1. Apparently (& you have to say apparently because everything is so vague, full of BS and waffle) PRL are in regular contact with BT with this development and BT are withholding judgement until they know more…..


      1. Yep NickC – apparently seems to be a good way of summing this up as numerous parties seem to be adjusting their respective stances on a monthly basis.

  13. Ah it really gas on here now all the same suspects blogging away still living in the cuckoo land of the billionaires charter and failing to grasp reality that their bluff has well and truly being called , ,talk about getting caught with your pants down lol. Its a great day for the real rugby people .i.e the ones who coach the young players and keep the ordinary clubs afloat and help to promote and develop the game in various regions in the different countries .The unions in the different countries by sticking together have put the english clubs on the back foot and this is a good development and will eventually save rugby from the cancer that currently envelopes soccer where the sport is esentially dominated by just 4 or 5 mega rich clubs who buy all the top players and the cheque book rules . The english clubs are in a real corner now and will eventually have to come back in to the hein cup on someones elses terms and this serves them right . Well done to all concerned and it is a good day for REAL rugby folk the lenght and breath of europe. To the premier rugby i just say for next season in the words of the u 2 song : with or without you ha ha ha .

    1. Real grown up Johne.

      So it’s the unions who wanted to expand the game in to new areas? Or was it the English and French clubs who spoke of inviting new countries into an expanded 3 tier European competition? The record of the unions in opening up the game to developing countries is abysmal. The anouncement by the unions last week was of a Heinieken cup with 20 teams made up from fewer countries than this year and with the Amlin (featuring Romanian and occasionally Spanish and Portugese teams) axed. Rugby fans in Ireland are certainly celebrating, but fans the length and breadth of Europe? Get real

      And it’s just the clubs who are interested in money? Seems particularly hard to argue 2 days before the Welsh union flog their players in a 4th AI for the money it brings in. Oh yeah, and when do New Zealand travel to Fiji for that test we’ve been hearing about?

      Be honest, you couldn’t give a flying whatsit about rugby as a whole, you just think that this gives a favourable settlement to whichever province you follow.

      Take your anti-English bigotry and shove it up your Rattle and Hum

    2. Hahaha. Fair enough Johne. I’ll keep living in my cuckoo land as long as I don’t have to spend anytime with any REAL rugby folk

  14. The comments along the lines of “serves the English (clubs) right” are a little daft, and quite possibly somewhat mis-informed.

    Stepping back, any Euro comp is a better comp with ALL nations clubs involved. Everyone knows this.

    ALL of the nations want ALL of the nations to be playing. I do not believe for one moment that the English clubs will be absent next year, whatever form the competition takes.

    In fact, whether it is ERC or RCC, or something else entirely. Whether it is BT, or Sky, or a mixture of the two, the competition will run.

    I further expect, the parameters of the competition to be very, very close to what the English and French clubs have lobbied for, with regards qualification criteria, if not next year (which may be too soon) then definitely the following year.

    This is the end game. It is not about (despite the negotiating positions, and colourful posturing) creating their own competition. This is a red herring. It is about creating a different Euro Comp, and it seems to me that we are getting very close to this.

    If we end up in this scenario, with the French and English clubs getting what they want in terms of the Euro Comp structure, whilst others can claim that they (English/French clubs) got their comeuppance by derailing the RCC plans.

    Everyones a winner.

    TV – well that is still to come but I suspect that becomes a carve up between BT and Sky. Just like football.

    1. Agreed. I’m beginning to wonder if the French haven’t now maneuvered the Celtic and Italian clubs into having to accept the new regime, albeit from 2015/16, as the French (and English) are prepared to “compromise”!

      1. Spot on! I think some of the rubbish on here about the English being isolated is a little premature, was this outcome planned as a possible means to an end?

        1. Beginning to look that way… This is what Paul Goze (head of LNR) has now said…

          “The RCC was a way to get the progress we wanted,” Goze has told Midi Olympique, referring to the restructured qualification format and reorganised financial distribution between the participating countries.

          “If the English cannot participate in next year’s competition, then a new meeting will be organised. Then we will pose the question as to whether the French clubs will also take part. I can’t say whether the English clubs will be able to leave their contract with BT Sport.”

          Goze outlined that despite committing to the ERC, next season would give the French clubs enough time to organise a new structure for 2015/2016.

          “This year of transition will give us enough time to create a new structure,” added Goze.

          “From now until July 1st 2014, we will try and find a way to include everybody in the new competition next year. We want to move to a new structure which would be more like an association of federations, similar to the one used in football. It’s not possible to do that in six months.

          “This new structure will be out of the ordinary for rugby. It will change attitudes, so it’s very important. The most difficult aspect is getting everyone behind the idea of an association of federations. Therefore we need to get a commission up and running as soon as possible to start planning for 2015-2016.

          “If there is one problem, it’s the contract signed by the English clubs. We reserve the right to withdraw from the competition next season should they not be able to join.”

    2. Blub, mostly agree but I do think the BT deal upset the overall plan here – reading the latest statements I think you are right – the French/English went into this with the ultimate aim of bending the existing comp to the new parameters. The French totally so.

      PRL then messed this up a bit when the BT offer came along as it made it very difficult for ERC to continue as an org because of their deal with Sky. So this upped the stakes for PRL – they need the new comp to not be ERC run or they lose a lot of money on the BT deal. I suspect (reading the latest French statements) that this p’d off the French a bit as it made it more complicated than what they wanted. So perhaps no surprise that the French have gone back to ERC now that ERC is moving towards what they wanted – however, everyone should note that it’s not just qual/money-split that is a demand, it’s that the comp is club/region/federation run rather than Union run. That has not been sorted yet.

      1. Brighty, yes it has always been very clear to me that RCC is a negotiating tool, rather than a true aim (although I am sure that it was somewhat more than just “hot air”).

        The TV aspect is more intriguing though, and not altogether obvious.

        It could be though that BT want some of Sky’s euro-pie here, and this is a way of breaking into Sky’s (presumably) exclusive rights to the HC.

        I can see this being taken legal, after all “rugby” parties have shaken hands on their Win-Win deal.

        Given the multi-broadcasting rights agreed with football, domestic and european (in most major euro countries), I suspect that Sky are not relishing this attack. Again, if not next season, then after that as BTvSky is a long game, with far more at stake that a bunch of rugby matches.

    3. Completely agree with you Blub. The new plans for the H’ken and Amlin Cups involve 2 out of the 3 gripes that the english and french clubs had. If the english clubs don’t take part in european competition next season, you’ll see the french clubs fielding weakened teams as the Top 14 with be their No 1 priority.

      It is clear that the WRU are in a real predicament at the moment as they are still at loggerheads with the regions which they set up in favour of keeping the traditional welsh clubs.

      As for the ECB, I think it is on borrowed time in its current guise.

      The battle of tv rights between Sky / BT – I can see this ending in court.

  15. To me it looks like this new movement up north is no big change. The French are just feeling the pressure from the ERC, and have decided to bye time.

    They are saying they will participate in the Heiniken Cup in 2014/2015 if the English clubs do too. This is a bit tricky because of the already negotiated BT deal the English clubs entered into.

    The French say they want the breakaway tournament in 2015/2016. (Coincidentally when SA will be free of their existing SANZAR contract).

    Looks like the French are covering their bases, so they can move either way depending on what happens, and will follow the sweater deal. The Welsh will do the same.

    So it boils down to what it has been from the beginning. A power struggle between the ERC and the English clubs between who can set up the best deals. The ERC are using their Sky Media broad sword and the English are using the BT rapier.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong?

  16. What a tangled web they weave… Too many (greedy) cooks?

    Retro wisdom is as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike I know, but if only the NH & esp the RFU, had grasped pro rugby at the start like the SH, would this sit have ever arisen?

    However, the situation it is what it is. So, were the English clubs driven in part by being peed off that the Celts had shut them out of the H Cup over recent yrs? And were the ‘Celts’ somewht greedy in that fin. distribution seemed inequitable… if I’m getting my noggin around this sorry affair?

    Whatever, it seems that conforntations like this ain’t in anyone’s interest. They are likely to seemingly produce ‘winners’ & ‘losers’. This, surely, is in no one’s, or the game’s, longer term interest.

    And are the IRB sitting on their hands? Can they not bang some heads … er, negotiate, or enforce, if nec, some settlement pronto? If they don’t have the power to do so then why not bring in the FA to run the game? Or Sepp Blatter? He’s an expert in doing nought (& making it look good too?), innit?

    I guess it will be sorted, there seems little choice not to. So long as there aren’t agrieved parties left at the fag end of it all.

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