This week’s European development comes in the form of a proposed play-off system for entry to the new Rugby Champions Cup, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. How would this work?
The new tournament will comprise 20 teams, with the top six from each of the Aviva Premiership, RaboDirect PRO12 and Top 14 leagues gaining automatic qualification. This leaves two places to be filled. In the current Heineken Cup set-up the winners of the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups qualify; if they have already qualified through league position (as is almost always the case), the places go to the highest-placed team in the winner’s league that has not automatically qualified.
The proposal would seemingly look to scrap that system, in favour of an end-of-season play-off that would allow teams from each of the three leagues a shot at gaining an extra qualification spot. There could be two games spread over a ‘play-off’ weekend, with the winners gaining the final two places in the competition (the only issue with that is, two games equals four teams, but coming from three leagues… how will that work?).
Without knowing too many of the details, it would seem to fit the ‘meritocratic’ system so coveted by the English and French clubs, while also giving the Celtic nations a chance to boost their representation in the competition that is currently set to be cut to just six teams.
The main plus point here is that it seems to be, finally, an element of compromise, signalling some sort of progress. The ‘play-off’ weekend would also add an extra level of excitement to the close-season for teams out of the race for the traditional qualification places but also not fighting to avoid relegation. In short, it would mean more competitive, exciting matches for those teams in limbo mid-table.
This is clearly just an initial proposal, with no indication as of yet as to how the Celtic and Italian unions will react, and even if it does prove acceptable there is still plenty of work to be done in terms of money, broadcasting rights and governance.
Elsewhere this week, Premiership Rugby chairman Quentin Smith has said in an interview with the BBC that there has been plenty of interest in the Rugby Champions Cup from teams outside of the Anglo-French alliance, but that nobody was yet willing to back it publicly and risk the wrath of their union.
“We’ve opened the doors to everyone else in Europe,” Smith said. “There is a lot of interest and frankly we’re not surprised. We’ve had discussions with all sorts of people.
“What’s difficult for everyone else is that any other team that is talking to us or would like to join is having to have difficult conversations with respective unions. Each of the unions issued a press release and made it abundantly clear that no team could participate without their blessing.
“We know that everyone else is having those conversations. It’s unlikely we will know exactly where anyone is until later this month. There was a meeting called by European Rugby Club for next week, October 23. We’re [the English clubs] not going and the French clubs aren’t going.
“But there’s a good chance that others will go and I suspect nobody will want to, for want of a better term, break cover before they’ve been through that meeting.”
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images