McCafferty refuses to back down in Heineken Cup Row

Mark McCafferty, Chief Executive of the PRL, has promised that there will be no reversal of the Premiership clubs’ position as the row over the Heineken Cup rumbles on.

“We have had no proposals (from ERC Ltd) other than the status quo,” McCafferty told The Rugby Paper.

“As it stands, there is no European competition from the end of the coming season because the accord has been terminated. It’s over. Finished. There is no basis for a competition. To put forward the status quo as an option is not realistic given that we and the French gave notice in June 2012.

“I’d like to be able to say we are making significant progress but the reality is that nothing has moved forward since June. It’s frustrating that people take so long over these things. We would have been prepared to work through the summer on it. For all of us, the preference is to find a European solution and agree a new format but it’s got to be on the basis of meritocracy with no free passes into it.”

The Anglo-French proposal is for a uniform six-team qualification zone in every league, but this could feasibly lead to only two of the four nations that contribute clubs to the RaboDirect PRO12 gaining qualification in a given year. As a result, a caveat would be added that says the every nation must have at least one team represented in the Cup. How this would work in practice remains unclear. Would the team in 6th have to forfeit their spot if, say, neither of the Italian clubs finished above them? That seems highly unfair.

The current European cups generate around £44m per season. Twenty-four per cent of this goes to the English and French leagues (£10.56m each), while the remaining fifty-two per cent ends up with the RaboDirect (£22.88m) clubs. PRL’s new agreement with BT Sport – which is worth £152m over four years – gives them the ability to increase European Cup revenue from £44m to somewhere reportedly north of £70m. This new agreement would see the PRO12 clubs earn around £24m as their one-third share.

McCafferty added, “We have proposals on the table for the competition format, even distribution of money and a balanced governance between Unions and clubs. Our clubs are very strong on this and, if anything, the French clubs feel even stronger. They are getting very little money out of the competition and many of them are financially ambitious.

“We have gone through a series of unsuccessful meetings over the last nine months. As the reality of the situation dawns, maybe that will encourage them to find an alternative position. Am I pessimistic? That depends on what happens in September.”

McCafferty spoke of on-going talks with South African Super XV teams and NFL American football teams.

“We have to start putting some contingency plans in place,” he said. “The South Africans have been talking to us for the last few months. But the preference remains to find a European solution.” One suspects the majoirty of fans would agree.

By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43

Picture: Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

40 thoughts on “McCafferty refuses to back down in Heineken Cup Row

  1. Whilst it would be a real shame to lose the European competitions, I completely agree with their stance. The fact the Rabo teams all get in automatically just does not seem fair.

    If it was outlined at the beginning of the season that the top 6 qualified, but one from each country, then surely 6th can not complain? They knew the rules from the start and it was clear.

    Makes sense to me but I am sure it isn’t that easy.

    1. I think if they marketed it as “Top team from each country qualifies, plus the two highest placed runners up” then I think there’d be even less cause to complain (even though it amounts to the same thing!)

  2. It’s unfair to penalise the Scots/Irish/Welsh/Italians for not having the population sizes (or, for Italy, supporter base) to support national professional leagues. We’ve had to join forces with each other and now the English and French tell us that this means, for the purpose of Euro competitions, we have to be thought of as a single entity. So this means that almost definitely 2 of the 4 countries will not be represented in the Euro cup unless we have some sort of dudge like “best team from each country”. That’s hilarious – you can be 6th best in England and get in but you may well have to be the best team in Wales to get in under these proposals. Where is the meritocracy in that? This amounts to unfair pre-qualification for the Rabo teams e.g. the Welsh have to beat the likes of Leinster/Ulster/Munster to even qualify whereas the English just have to finish above the likes of Newcastle/Exeter/etc. Not dissing those teams but do not try and tell me it’s the same as beating Munster.

    The Euro cup predates the Celtic League. Back then each union selected the teams it wanted to play in it. There were no complaints from the English then when they were winning it. Now they’re not winning it they want to blame the “easy” route we apparently have in as that can be the only reason the Irish are better … not because they’re better but because they do not have to play in the almighty English league that is so good, so hard and so tough that it just wears out the best teams in Europe otherwise the English would be winning the HC every year. Piffle. Utter, utter piffle.

    There are many more reasons why this proposal is wrong and will lead to Pro rugby in Eng/Fra/Leinster/Munster only but I doubt anyone in France or England cares about that. Let’s just make sure the 5th/6th best teams in England and France get more money, sod the Celts and the Italians.

    1. I don’t think its anything to do with a lack of success from English or French teams (since it is both of them complaining right!?). It was an all French final last year and an English team in the semi’s. Whilst the Irish have had great success over the last few years, I really haven’t great outrage from Englishmen at all.

      The problem is that the likes of the Blues (who no offence lost to Sale last year when they couldn’t get anywhere near a win in the Premiership), just get to walk into the Heineken.

      Whilst I agree all nations should be represented, I also believe it should be a competition involving the best teams in Europe.

      The idea here is not to deter Celtic or Italians from appearing in the Heineken, but making sure that, where possible, the best possible teams qualify to be a part of the competition.

      1. That’s the disagreement then Jacob – it’s not the best teams in Europe for me, it’s the best teams from each country in Europe. If it was just the best teams then right now we’ll just have 1 match, a replay of the Top 14 final, and call the winner of that the best in Europe.

        Further, even if it is the best teams in Europe the idea that 6th in the premiership makes you one of the best teams in Europe is, as I said in my original reply, laughable.

        So I disagree with you that this is about meritocracy – it’s about the PRL expanding it’s finances further, expanding it’s influence over Europ competition while at the same time telling other leagues/countries how to handle their affairs.

        One option, for example, open to the Celts is to ditch the Celtic League then and let’s have single country leagues. Wales 4 regions could play each other 4 times a year. The Irish could return to a regional system where their regions only play in the HC, players return to clubs and country for the rest of the year. Boring yes, but what would PRL demand we did then about qualification? The point is that the English and French are trying to force what works for them, a single country league that decimates their international options, on to the other countries in Europe and doing it without realising that ditching the Celtic League altogether really is a genuinely possible outcome from this.

        As for The Blues … we’re still a seeded team in the HC. Crazy in light of last year, I know, but over time we’ve done relatively well in the HC. At the mo we’re down in the dumps but as you say that didn’t stop Sale from qualifying last year either.

        1. Well Castres won the Top 14 and the got nowhere near the Heineken final. That is a very strange jump you have made there. The Heineken should be the best European teams does not mean I think that only the best two teams should play in a final. Its a competition designed to determine the best European team at the end of it, not match between our pre-agreed best two teams we can think of.

          And on the note of the 6th team in England, whilst they are not one of the best teams in Europe – they are probably near the 18 (which is how many would make up the tournament.

          Whilst I don’t actually agree with 6 English and French teams; I do think the whole thing needs looking at. Not having to qualify for what is the best European club competition just does not make sense. Playing in a league that has no relegation of qualification systems within it makes it far less competitive and therefore far easier to rest players for big games; that is a fact.

          1. Jacob – ” Its a competition designed to determine the best European team at the end of it, not match between our pre-agreed best two teams we can think of” – we agree on that and I do not think any selection of Rabo teams changes that. The best team wins in the end.

            My point about the French was more forward looking – I think they will dominate the HC for years to come so simply saying only the best teams should play in Europe is to my mind not far off saying let’s just let the French play. As you say though there has to be balance, interest created by having other teams. So the argument here is on where that balance is struck and the disagreement is on how that is done. The PRL want the Celtic League to do exactly as they and the Top 14 do. This doesn’t work – applying single-country league params to multi-country league params is unfair and as I say just pushes the Celtic league closer to oblivion.

            We will have to disagree about whether the 6th best team in England is one of the best 18 teams in Europe.

            “Not having to qualify for what is the best European club competition just does not make sense. Playing in a league that has no relegation of qualification systems within it makes it far less competitive and therefore far easier to rest players for big games; that is a fact.” Disagree with that – there are many, many more factors at play. The French teams have much bigger squads so they can rest players as well but I do not see them being told how to run their league? Also, as a regular watcher of Rabo matches I see most of the resting being done for international reasons – reasons that the Irish/Welsh/Scottish think are important and reasons that will not change by this imposition. We’ll still rest players for internationals because our clubs buy in to the “country before club” mantra, it is why our relatively small countries do so well. We will not change that, for one reason it would financially kill our sport to be less successful internationally. In our countries the international game funds the domestic one.

          2. The EPS England squad is designed for the exact reasons you are saying is does not do. The England players have been in a random summer camp last week – in the middle of the clubs pre-season. Why? Because England comes first. So please make sure you understand the structure things before you make brash assumptions.

            Also, 4th is a poor example on your part, because 5th is over their shoulder and 4th will want to be in the play offs. How does that mean they can rest players?

          3. Jacob, the EPS has been criticised many times on this forum as part of the problem. England only comes first for those players who were already marked as being in the EPS. As was discussed in the middle of last year, when the opportunity for a slight change in the EPS mix presents itself, this is not as flexible as the Celtic model where any, for example, Welsh qualified player in a Welsh team can be called into the pre-agreed training camps. Further every single Welsh qualified player, not just those on some short list, follows training and dietary regimes that are monitored and sometimes modified by the national team. Further things such as Jamie Roberts moved to centre on the request of the national setup, Halfpenny given kicking duties at The Blues, etc. all show a greater concentration on the national cause than the club cause. So I am afraid it is you who does not understand the structures and need to look into them in more detail before making such brash assumptions.

            The Rabo has playoffs as well so I do think it is a good example. We could make examples all year e.g. as soon as it was obvious who was relegated in the Prem then the threat of relegation is removed and teams can rest players. Yes, you then have the desire to win a HC place or a playoff place but that is where the fundamental difference between approaches lies. The PRL system seems to assume (seems ok, I’m making a judgement call based on what I see) that teams will only play to win if they have something riding on it outside the result itself e.g. qualification for something. I, being a relatively old man, remember watching many games of rugby before leagues, before qualification for things, and remember (and still watch such games) where the only focus was on winning that match. Getting that result on that Saturday afternoon. I believe this spirit still exists in rugby and do not agree that matches between 8th/9th in the league are necessarily poorer or less intense because neither team can do much other than swap final league positions. This is obviously aan opinion but perhaps it explains where I am coming from.

            So overall I think that imposing a “top 6” (or some sort of similar thing with a 1-country each fudge) will damage the games in Ire/Sco/Wal/Italy for all of the reasons I have outlined. Further I do not think that the imposition will improve anything – it will not improve our players (between the 4 countries we already have most of the best players in the NH), it will not improve our teams (as I said, I don’t see that we are lacking decent competition in matches already), it will not improve the Heineken Cup as to me it will mean less flavour in it, less countries.

        2. Whilst there are many factors, if a Top 14 club is fighting for a qualification place the week before their Heineken semi, but someone sitting in the similar position within the Rabo team are guaranteed a place in the Heineken for next year – the Rabo team have an advantage.

          I agree that is likely the French teams will dominate – but the structure of the competition is irrelevant on that, because the French will dominate what ever the structure with their current financial strength.

          Also I don’t see the link between the internationals and resting players? Is that different? I am pretty sure the RFU dictate how much an English player can play in the Premiership so absolutely no difference there.

          1. Welsh players in Wales are released for the national cause for many more weeks than English players in England are. I meant this rather than resting. This will not change just because the league changes it’s qualification requirements. We will still do this as country comes before club and then I would repeat everything else I’ve said about why this model works better for the smaller countries than it does for the larger ones where the leagues are the primary revenue generator.

            English team in 4th place in their league, safe from relegation and qualified for HC, could choose to rest players the weekend before a HC semi in the same way. This would be an advantage.

        3. Again I am all over the place with replies.

          And again you are unfortunately way off base. The only difference is that all of this only happens with the EPS and Saxons squads – which to be fair is the 64 top players in the country.

          Last season Wade swapped wings for Wasps because England need a left winger not a right winger. Why? Because Lancaster said so. There are hundreds of examples.

          So I think your assumptions around Englands control over players is very far from true.

          The issues with the EPS are very separate. The problems being that we can not interchange between squads for Test matches unless there are injuries, which is clearly crazy. But that has nothing to do with Club control or England not being put first. The idea was bought in to bring continuity to the national set up. Nice theory, just does not work in principal.

          1. No, I am not way off base. As you say, the difference is that the EPS is a set list of players. This is one of the differences I have discussed at length and was also discussed as a negative point on this blog, before the 6 nations. At that time a few English fans mentioned that the problem with it was that not enough changes were enabled to recognise all of the form changes that had happened since it was first announced.

            These are not my assumptions, they are facts. Wales/Ireland players are controlled more by the central union than England ones. I never said England had zero control, I didn’t even say they had poor or middling control, I simply said less control than Wales/Ireland. As an example are all England internationals being rested from the first 4 weeks of the season under union orders? Could the union even specify that? No, it couldn’t. But they are doing it in Ireland. And please don’t muddy the waters about whether this is good or not – we’re not talking about good/bad, we’re talking about the difference in Union control.7

            “The problems being that we can not interchange between squads for Test matches unless there are injuries, which is clearly crazy. But that has nothing to do with Club control or England not being put first” – I cannot understand why you think is doesn’t indicate that country is not foremost. This is clearly all about club before country. The EPS exists as an agreement between the clubs and the union, to ensure that everyone knows up front where they stand e.g. the clubs know exactly which players and when they will be needed. The very fact that interchanges based on form cannot happen is something that puts club first because it’s ensuring the clubs have the continuity they want. If it was England first then there would be zero restrictions, just like there are zero restrictions in Wales/Ireland clubs.

            (I’m delib leaving Scotland out here as I am not as familiar but given that their Union own Glasgow/Edin I expect they have total country focus).

        4. I think the massive issues you seem to be implying are slightly exaggerated.

          Baring in mind that exceptions are made, i.e. the beginning of SLs reign when the squad needed a complete overhaul, I think the model is perfectly flexible.

          Whilst the EPS allows Lancaster to have complete control over the England squad, I know he does have input into their day to day activities, and obviously control the minutes the play and even the position the play in some cases. I honestly do not know if your comment regarding Welsh players being together more than the England squad is true. I do know that the EPS and Saxons squad were together for a week at the beginning of the month – which suggests a good amount of time together takes place outside the usual international windows.

          Whilst Wales have had slightly more success in the past two 6N than other sides, I don’t think they are so far ahead as to suggest our EPS model is useless. In fact, since it has come in England have made huge strides as a team.

    2. How is the correct comparison with Ulster/Munster/Leinster in the RABO Newcastle/Exeter in the prem?

      You either say;

      For teams in the RABO that missed out – you have to beat the likes of U/M/L, in order to finish above them. To be compared with teams in the Prem that missed out, they have to beat the likes of Tigers/Sarries/Quins to displace them from top 6. RABO might have the edge still, but it’s a lot more equal than you made it sound, especially as the provinces play massively weakened teams in some league games.


      For teams in the RABO that made the top 6, they would have to continue to beat the likes of Zebre/Treviso/Newport. Whilst in the prem it would be Bath/Wasps/Newcastle. I think I’d rather play Zebre/Treviso/Newport?..

      You might also find that having Heineken qualification would give the RABO a more competitive edge. Not only would teams be playing for playoffs, they’d be pushing for the top six. The prem benefits from having almost all the games throughout the season with something riding on them. Whether that be Top spot, home advantage, playoffs, HC qual, or prem survival. A more competitive league will breed better players for the respective national teams.

      1. ” A more competitive league will breed better players for the respective national teams.” – Umm, so is that why France and England have been more successful in international terms than Wales and Ireland over the last few years? The facts do not support your statement – it’s a statement repeated a lot but that does not make it true. Ire/Wal are largely happy with how things have gone for us internationally since the Rabo was created.

        One problem in Ire/Wal/Sco is that we have a far smaller player base so need to look after it in a different way. In addition we do not have the funds to backup our limited player base with overseas quality. So we have less teams and have agreements with the players that they will play a max num of games. Forcing our league to change qualification will not change this requirement to rest players.

        If we make it so that only the top 6 of the Rabo qualify then about 1/2 of the countries in the Rabo will regularly miss out on Europ comp, further reducing their financial viability. If the PRL wants to be clear that this is ok then I understand that. But this mangling of the financial with the supposed “merit” is preposterous. Do not tell us what is better for our teams/leagues. Tell us we can’t afford to play with the PRL/Top-14 and we’d understand that. We’d understand that in the long term this would be bad for rugby in the NH.

        You say the Prem benefits from it – that’s an opinion and mine differs. I find Prem matches among relegation threatened teams, to be grinding dirges based on fear and mistakes. This is my opinion, not a fact. This is why this whole PRL dictat is so infuriating – it keeps assuming that the PRL model is the best and right one for everyone and comments like “The prem benefits from having almost all the games throughout the season with something riding on them” perpetuate that as it’s further evidence that Prem fans believe their league us the best. I don’t agree but my problem is that the PRL want to force their approach onto my league.

        We cannot have relegation – we do not have enough teams. I say this in answer to another point raised about the Rabo.

        1. I’m sorry but again you have made such false statements about the Premiership. The debate on relegation has been had in England, and there has been discussions of it happening. The problem being there are a lot of sides so it would work the same as the SA Super15 teams in a way – but we certainly do not think our structure is perfect. Absurd statement.

          Also, what Welsh players play in the Rabo? Not many and less will be year on year. So I hardly see a link between Welsh international success and the make up of their regional sides.

          Whilst money is important to any professional sport, to suggest that its the only reason is unjust – because you have no idea on how they see it. I completely agree with the statement that teams should have to qualify for the best NH club competition – don’t get me wrong, I am happy to debate all day the best way to structure that, and to be honest I have no idea myself. But to suggest that is not a fair point is simply ignoring a perfectly understandable viewpoint.

          1. I have not made any false statements as I was careful to talk about my opinions. The post I was replying to said the English prem benefitted from having games with something riding on them till the end of the season. I disagree for the reasons I outlined. This cannot be a false statement that I disagree. The poster clearly believes that this gives the Prem an edge over the Rabo I.e. the prem is better because of this. I disagree.

            A lot of welsh players player in the Rabo, a handful of marquee names do not. Until the end of this year nearly all did. It was with those players that we had a lot of success. I do believe the things are linked. I cannot understand why you do not see this link – not saying you are wrong, just saying that I cannot understand why you cannot see this link. The national setup has a lot of access to the welsh players and further is able to dictate how they train, eat and play at their regions. This seems self evident to me that this has helped is be successful at international level.

            I don’t think I understand your last point. I agree structure needs looking at but the language of PRL comes across as dictating and further seems to summarise as “this is how our leagues do it so this is how yours should”. Perhaps the way the prem does it is not the best either? However, the PRL and Top 14 approach does not seem to countenance that. I think money is the primary motivation but agree that I cannot know this. But, much like I can assume Henson is a bell end from his actions without actually knowing him, I am drawing conclusions from what PRL are saying are saying and doing as to what their motives are. I agree that I cannot prove I am right but I guess similarly I can’t see how I can be proved wrong about this.

            As another poster has said they need to get together and sort this out.

        2. Apologies, I am replying all over the place but it does not let me reply below. Happened above as well so I hope it makes sense Brighty.

          The Premiership has looked at its Promotion/Relegation structure in the last few years and have considered changing it. Having a fixed period (something like three years), where a certain amount of teams stay in the league. Meaning those end of season boring relegation fixtures do not happen. So my point is, how can you suggest that the Premiership thinks their structure and league is perfect and everyone should follow suit?

          1. Jacob, I am suggesting that statements like this “The prem benefits from having almost all the games throughout the season with something riding on them” mean that some fans think their league is the better model. I never used the word “perfect”, you did. As you can see, what I said was ” further evidence that Prem fans believe their league us the best”. So ok, I should have further qualified that with “some” fans but in no reply have I said the league itself believes it is perfect. Just that some fans and the PRL itself believe that it’s model is the best model. They do think everyone else should follow because that is what they are proposing – top 6 get into the HC. This is their model i.e. top X get into the HC, they think the Rabo should follow it. I do not. So it’s a simple fact that they want other leagues to follow their model.

        3. I believe that more competitive leagues breed better players. The English national team would not be worse if it didn’t have a competitive domestic league. The fact that Wales (you also said Ireland but I don’t know what this was based on?) have had more success in recent times doesn’t disprove that.. there are other factors to consider. For example, it might be that the overseas players in the Eng/French leagues are the “better players” therefore not benefiting the national sides of England & France. This is an issue that the Top14 will surely have to face up to at some point given the huge number of overseas names heading to their league

          Having games with something riding on them replicates a test match more than a free flowing chuck about where winning or losing isn’t as important. These types of games give players the chance to show their metal despite playing for smaller clubs. I didn’t say that the prem was the best league, for me the Top 14 is the top NH league currently. I do enjoy watching Prem rugby more than RABO though, maybe that’s just because I’m English and the teams are English so they mean more to me.

          I didn’t specifically say relegation was good for the RABO and I get your points on player base and resting them as a result. I noted that the provinces rest players as part of my comparison of how easy it is to beat Leinster versus beating Tigers – I didn’t suggest the player rotation should/shouldn’t happen.

          1. Rodgers – “I believe that more competitive leagues breed better players”. I can see that and that is where we disagree. I don’t think we’ll get a right/wrong answer on this one, I can see that it’s an opinion. To me when I see the supposedly (i.e. claimed to be) more competitive leagues, claimed to be such because they have relegation and HC places based on position, I do not see better games or better players. I sometimes see games dominated by fear of making a mistake, or games dominated by foreign bought muscle, or games where the defenses of both teams cancel each other out as nobody wants to be caught with the ball in hand. I do also see some awesome games in the Prem but usually this is more to do with the quality of the teams involved than their relative league positions.

            I am not so convinced it is the better model for developing international players either and used Wales success as part of what I think is the evidence for that. Also I would say that Ireland have been relatively successful with a large haul of triple crowns and that Grand Slam in the last decade.

            I completely agree with you about the reasons for enjoying the league – my team plays in the Rabo. It means more to me than the Prem and I enjoy the matches more, for my own reasons.

            The thrust of the original article is basically PRL saying “this is how qualificaton should be done for the HC” and their proposal is the same as what they already do. So this cannot help but look like someone saying “this is what we do, you do it because it’s the best way to do it” and then I’d be back into the myriad reasons I’ve mentioned already here on why I do not think that the way the PRL and Top 14 operate would be good for the Rabo and the countries in the Rabo.

  3. 6+6+6 takes it too far, this probably means 1 Welsh, 1 Scottish and 1 Italian side in a 20 team competition given the current strength of Munster, Leinster and Ulster.

    But the status quo is just daft, I didn’t appreciate how uneven the distribution of revenues was either.

    I think 6+6+8 would be more reasonable, HC winners and Amlin winners not giving additional places for a league. I do like the idea of a 20 team comp as this will also increase the prestige and quality of the Amlin, which must then also become a more marketable and valuable competition.

    What I can’t understand (or accept) is the inability for the factions to continue any meaningful discussion and negotiation. It’s the Simpsons electric shock aversion therapy, pathetic. Guys, sit down and discuss how to grow the cake, rather than squabbling over the crumbs.

  4. I honestly think the Italian clubs would benefit more from playing in the Amlin because it’s closer to their quality of play and I think they will have much more success in it. Saying that, I think that the Heineken Cup is an inferior competition with the Italian clubs playing in it. It’s a joke that the top seeds always come from the pools that have the Italian clubs.

    I don’t think the status quo is sustainable anymore. I feel that the qualification is preposterous and the greed from all the parties involved is ridiculous. I don’t understand why the two factions can’t sit down hash out compromises to make it work for both of them. Change is a natural progression, for good or bad, but nothing ever stays the same.

    But, clearly, the Celts/Italians will not budge from wanting to keep the competition as it is because they benefit financially and competitively from it. And, the England/France will not budge from their position because they want a larger piece of the financial pie. That’s why there probably won’t be a European competition next year.

    1. Yes SY, it looks like the doomsday scenario could happen. No Euro cup. All parties need to get together and sort this. It’s unthinkable that what I think has become the best club comp in the world could disappear.

  5. Maybe a Champions League style pre tournament qualification would work? Perhaps having the top 4 from each of the 3 leagues automatically qualify. Then from those that don’t qualify have 2or3 ‘next best’ teams from each nation (not league) play off in a qualifying round. This could take place on semi finals week as nobody outside the top 4 would be involved in playoffs. That way, the clubs would earn the right to compete and not FatCats thrashing out a deal for auto qual in a board room. Then money could be distributed based on a pro rata basis for how many teams made it through to the group stages.

    1. That wouldn’t work in France though as they have the top 6 involved in the ‘Barrages’ stage, followed by the semi finals, followed by the final. Their season is absurdly long and I don’t think there’s any way they could fit more fixtures in without changing the current league system – which I think they should, but that’s by the by as it’s a money-spinner and unlikely to happen.

      I do love the idea though. Seems sensible, although how would you accommodate the Italian/Scottish clubs if they don’t make the top 6-8 (Glasgow notwithstanding, who have been excellent in the Rabo in the last couple of years)? Perhaps the top Italian/Scottish team could qualify for these play-offs, rather than just the teams placed 5th, 6th, 7th etc.?

    2. I prefer a super 15 model – get together, agree how many teams from each nation will play each year and then let the individual governing bodies sort out how they decide which of their teams will play. This avoids any one nation telling the others how to do their thing and lets each nation do what is best for them. It preserves the colour of the tournament which, for sponsors, is important. Quality should not be a problem – if it is then we’d have the same argument over the 6Ns (e.g. those old ones where Eng/Fra in the 00s considered joining the tri-nations because the Celts were so crap. Over time the Celts developed. Things will change around again. Over time the Italian club sides will get better in the HC, closing the door to them now will stop that).

      Introduce a staggered variation system, like the football champs league, where over time these nums can vary e.g. if England consistently get all of the last 4 spots and Wales never get out of their groups then over time Wales would lose places. This would, for example, force Wales to concentrate it’s resources into ensuring it’s HC teams are the best they can be.

  6. there is a lot on here that i agree/disagree with.

    But one area that i feel i have to weigh in on is brighty’s comments about England’s EPS.

    Firstly, England often ask clubs to play someone in a certain position so that they can have a look at them (a handful of wingers shifted from right to left last year, and Kyle Eastmond ended up playing 12, Tom Wood spent a fair chunk of the seasons with 6 on his back, even though saints prefer him at 7 – all at england’s request)

    Also england has an agreement with the clubs that they can keep hold of the players they want. Take Olly Kohn for example. when he trained with Wales in the 6Ns, he had to return during the off week. England players did not, because they had this agreement set up. Its why england have the policy of picking only Aviva Prem players. Also england have an agreement that their EPS squad memebers are limited in how many minutes that they play a season. this means it is up to clubs on how to manage them. either let them play full matches and rest them occasionally, or sub them off and accumulate the minutes that way.

    the EPS agreement is a pretty good one overall. the only big issue is that the management are limited in how many changes they are allowed to make from the previous squad. (however, SL approached the clubs and was given special dispensation when he took over).

    with regards to other comments brighty, naming Exeter as a “low” team is quite uninformed, as they have consistently secured HC qualification for last year and this one coming (meaning they finished in at least 6th both years). Exeter also beat the Scarlets both home AND away, the Scarlets who finished 4th in the Rabo… Also over the two legs against Leinster Exeter lost by a combined total of 12 points. the scarlets lost to Leinster by a combined total of 26. by this logic, i would say that if the 6th best team in the premiership isnt in the top 18 teams in europe, then the 4th team in the rabo surely cant be?

    1. Simo, the EPS is better than the previous for England i.e. no proper agreement. I was not saying it was rubbish – I was saying it is not as good a system, for England, as the way the Irish/Welsh/Scottish system is for those national sides. We have no EPS so none of the problem you acknowledge of having to only pick players from it. Olly Kohn is a good example – if he had been playing in Wales then Gats could have had him for 2 weeks before the 6Ns and for the entire duration of it. And at Christmas. And for the entire autumn season including the tacked on outside IRB window match. All at a moments notice (if we had an EPS then Kohn would probably not have been in it so we would have been stuffed).

      So yeah, it’s a good compromise overall for England but it’s not as good, for the national side, as the setup the Rabo unions have. I do remember Woodward saying he’d have loved to have the access that Wales had. That was a long time ago I know and predates the EPS but the EPS has not achieved the same level of access as Wales enjoy. I think the difference in setup, the focus of country before club of Ire and Wales goes some way to explaining how these smaller nations are able to compete with France and England. France, for example, look now like a great example of the dangers of making the clubs the prominent force. I think (poor memory) that in the last 6Ns they only had one 10 playing regularly there for his club in the whole of France?

      Trying to pick players from the Rabo only is something I would love us to do but realistically it cannot happen. England have the finances to keep most of their best players in England and also have a wider pool so, for example, they can lose Paul Sackey and there’s a decent similar level player in England they can pick instead. It gets more challenging with some e.g. Jonny or Sheridan but these one offs mean that it’s better to stick with the policy for some of the short term pain.

      Wales, on the other hand, do not have replacements for Lydiate, North, Jenkins et al and it could get worse if 1/2p, Jones, AWJ etc. move on. It’s just not feasible for us. If England lost half of their first choice XV to France in the space of 2 seasons then I think the policy of only picking from the Prem would change. Especially in really key positions e.g. Cole/Corbs.

      I know exactly what Exeter achieved and who they beat and by how much. The maths is not relevant and you know can’t be used in the way you have – Eng beat NZ and then lost to Wales so Wales are better than NZ? I know that is not true. I shouldn’t have singled out any particular club as perceptions of who are the better clubs amongst the teams that didn’t win the HC are mostly personal. So I take that back and apologise for dissing Exeter. What is important to me is that the “top 6” format is not appropriate for the Rabo countries and I truly believe it will harm us and by extension reduce rugby in the NH. We need X countries in the HC, broadly on an equal split (but some countries only having 2/4 sides make that impossible so add more English/French). We do not need the top X from each league.

      1. “That was a long time ago I know and predates the EPS but the EPS has not achieved the same level of access as Wales enjoy”

        Give it a rest Brighty! You’ve banged out this fact in all your posts. Wales have done well but your success has been limited to European success only*, whereas Wales and all the Rabo teams have tanked against the big 3. I don’t see evidence that the Rabo league benefits Ireland and Scotland and because of its lack of competition it is not very popular and is losing revenue making it harder to keep home talent at home – which will in time break the Wales model. I await to see whether these clauses that Lydiate and Roberts have touted are as water tight as Haskell’s of a few years ago.

        *yes I know Wales got to a wc semi, but you only had to beat Ireland to get there and then lost to France which kind of contradicts your argument about the relative successes of the two nations. England currently sit 3rd in the world rankings so I think the EPS is doing ok. Yes I’d dearly love to see these results result in a trophy, but I believe some of the more disappointing reverses in recent years has been down to experience not the system that put the players there. The next 6n will be Lancaster’s third and hopefully lesson (some very painful) will have been learnt.

        1. Benjit, go back and read that sentence you quoted. The key word I have used is “access”. I did not write “success”. I was talking about access to players i.e. Wales managers enjoy easier access to players than England managers do. This is why I think it is a better system for international teams than the EPS. Amusing to see you go off on one though after not reading what I said properly and assuming I was bigging up Wales again.

          “because of its lack of competition it is not very popular” – oh, that’s why it is not popular? I think it is much more complicated than that.

          a) The regions are not popular in Wales. There is still a lot of bad feeling about the removal of clubs from the pro structure. No matter what league or comp they were in they have trouble drawing crowds for anything other than top end marquee games e.g. HC semi finals.

          b) They play the games at stupid TV pleasing times. Good luck finding a Rabo game on a traditional Saturday afternoon outside of Ireland and even there it is not that often. Also fixtures are all over the shop and often moved around.

          c) The sponsorship and marketing of it is is horrendous.

          d) It keeps changing. Teams in/out, playoffs in/out. It’s hard to get excited about a relatively new competition that doesn’t even stay stable for 2 or 3 years – it means that there is no momentum, no history.

          e) It, in it’s current format, is very new and is competing with incumbents e.g. HC, Welsh league. The Prem got decent time to establish itself before the HC came along.

          f) We have far less rugby fans in Rabo countries than in Top 14 and Prem countries.

          g) Our clubs compete with internationals – we play so many, so often, at such high prices that many fans have become “internationals only” fans. This means they fork out ~£80 a ticket almost ten times a year. This seems like plenty to them, especially in the sort of economically deprived areas most of the Rabo teams are in. I think this benefits the national teams but, in Wales in particular, we need to balance the money out better.

          h) the wider geography of it makes travelling support almost non-existent. There are not many away fans at Cardiff v Edin games. Really the only games that do not require sig. money and time are same-country derbies. The Prem has more concentrated hotspots with only Sale and Newcastle really outside (and yes, I know Exeter is not a stroll from Leics but it’s a lot easier than Munster to Cardiff).

          i) We do not have the money to keep and attract the top players any more. Chicken and egg with this one perhaps.


          1. D’oh – I had completely misread your comment, though not the nub of the arguments you were making above, I think?

            Basically the problem as I see it is that the Rabo business model is dependent on the HC, whereas both the French and English leagues are self sufficient, therefore they see their commercial success as subsidising the Celtic teams, which the Irish provices have used to become successful in the HC and the WFU have used as a springboard for international success? Probably over simplistic but you can see why they want to bring the current status quo to an end. I just don’t see how ERL/ Rabo think they can stop market forces taking effect?

          2. Yes Benjit – I agree with that. Would also add that for the Welsh/Irish/Scottish there is far more interest in winning the HC than The Rabo (for a lot of the reasons I listed as to why it lacks popularity). So yes, the HC subsidises our club game and also it’s the main thing we want to win. I suspect that in Eng it’s not so clear cut (may fans would happily win Prem and not HC?) and in France we know that Top 14 is more important.

            So yes. the key is that Prem/Top14 need to avoid taking as big a slice of the cake as they physically can. That restraint is needed or NH rugby will wither some. This has been a fundamental problem since it went pro i.e. really only England, France and SA have the supporter base and financial/sponsorship clout to maintain the game purely on club finances.

            The rest of us, and I include SANZAR, need to see deals put in place e.g. Super 15 or HC that enable rugby to grow or even just to continue to exist. The Top 14/PRL approach is not going to work for the Celtic countries, it’s the football model and it will not work for us.

            As you say, I can’t blame the finances for annoying Top14/PRL but they have to look at the wider picture, much as SANZAR do with playing Super 15 games to virtually empty stadiums in Aus.

  7. Being entirely selfish (as I have BT sport) but I would LOVE an Anglo/ French/ BOK club competition as I think it would benefit English players to play against SH teams more often. I enjoy the HC but it has become a bit predicatable over the last few years, and the seeding at Group stages can be a bit of a lottery.

    1. I think that’s a reasonable desire but is at the nub of the problem for me. For example, a Euro league that had Leins/Uls/Mun, Cardiff/Swansea (yes, back to Swansea), Top English clubs and Top French clubs would probably be the perfect draw for sponsors, TV money etc. and would be great to watch.

      Ultimately though it would shrink the game in the NH. This to me is the nub of the issue – the PRL stance does not take into account the need to maintain rugby, grow it even, outside the supporter and cash rich regions.

      1. Tbf its not just the PRL (not my favourite body tbh).

        Hmm, yes I do get your point on growing the game, but in a professional era money talks and the perception is that Rabo teams are getting a disproportionate amount of the proceeds and I think ERL have to recognise who has the commercial pulling power. I can’t help feeling that Rabo teams/ ERL have backed themselves into a corner here.

  8. I read on the piece about Argentina a possible solution and revenue maximiser that I like. They’re splitting the super15 up to have more derbies and then bringing the top X from each pool together at the end of the season.

    So if all leagues would buy it we could have a system were agreed up front X teams from each country (being ruthless I’d go 2 Wales, 2 Ireland, 1 Scotland, 1 Italian, 6 English, 6 French – neatly aligns with what PRL want).

    Wales sides play each other as many times as they (the union/clubs) want, top 2 go through. Same with Ireland. The plan falls down with Scotland and Italy though? Hard to have qualification on results when you only have 2 teams. Perhaps they split into clubs and have 2 guaranteed qual regional rep sides in the Euro cup? (As an aside this may even be a better solution for Wales i.e. make the regions true regional rep sides that we only field in the HC, for the rest of the season the players play in their clubs with an eye to getting into the regions).

    Leagues are played, results determined, then we go straight into a full on no-interruptions Euro cup. No side can rest players as the thing is every weekend. England and France carry on with their leagues as they are. Rabo league is removed. Seems like everyone would be happy?

    I think part of the problem is that we even have a Celtic league – we’ve tried to create a comp that is like the Prem/Top-14 but as I’ve said loads on here already, this sort of comp does not suit the Celtic countries.

    I can dream…

  9. A (slightly more radical) idea would be to have a Super 15 style competition in Europe with 3 pools of 6, one Celtic (Mun/Lein/Uls/Ospr/Scar/Glas), one English and one French. The playoff system would be identical to Super 15 and the bottom team in each pool relegated to an identical second tier competition with the remaining Pro12 and Prem teams plus the next 6 French teams. England and France could relegate their bottom teams from this as well should they wish.
    To keep an element of national competition, English, French and Celtic cups could be played.

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