Did mediators secure Euro cease-fire?
It has the factitious appearance of a cease-fire, but will the latest declaration in the Euro war be a lasting peace?
Mediators called in to help resolve the row over the future of top-level European competitions insisted "progress has been made on a number issues" following a two-day meeting in Dublin.
The future of both the European Cup and the second-tier European Challenge Cup was thrown into doubt last month when leading English and French clubs announced plans for breakaway tournaments free from the control of existing organisers European Rugby Cup – a body controlled by the continent's leading national unions rather than the clubs.
English and French clubs have long complained that Celtic League teams have an unfair advantage in European competition as most of them are guaranteed entry, whereas Premiership and Top 14 teams have to fight hard just to qualify.
Only the top six in England and France are guaranteed a place in the European Cup, whereas at least 10 Pro12 sides – including both Scottish, both Italians and a minimum of three each from Wales and Ireland – have a free pass into the competition.
But, following a Dublin meeting attended by representatives of Europe's leading unions – England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy – independent mediators Graeme Mew and Stephen Drymer delivered a statement that appeared to go some way to meeting Anglo-French club concerns.
The national unions re-affirmed their backing for of two European tournaments, each made up of 20 teams, and a possible third-tier event.
They also called for "meritocratic" qualification from the three leagues into the European Cup based on six teams each from England and France, with seven from the Celtic League.
Revenues would be divided one third, one third, one third per league "with the stipulation that monies to be received by the Pro12 [Celtic] countries would not be less than the current levels."
However, there was no reference in their statement to the future role, if any of ERC, and, significantly, the meeting was boycotted by leading English and French clubs who are continuing to press head with their plans for a Rugby Champions Cup that would replace the existing European Cup and European Challenge Cup tournaments next season.
Earlier this week the Anglo-French breakaway plan received support from Wales's four regional teams – Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and the Scarlets – which further undermined ERC's position.
The English Premiership and France's Ligue National de Rugby feel they are perfectly within their rights to launch a new event having long ago announced their intention to serve a two-year notice period which expires when the existing agreement governing ERC tournaments expires at the end of this season.
"Progress has been made on a number of issues relating to the future of European club rugby competition," Mew and Drymer said in their statement on Thursday.
Full statement by the mediators Graeme Mew and Stephen Drymer: On Wednesday and Thursday (23 and 24 October) we facilitated a meeting of representatives of the six national rugby unions in Dublin.
Progress has been made on a number of issues relating to the future of European club rugby competition.
The meeting concluded with consensus among those present on two key principles of competition format and distribution of revenues, and with agreement to meet again very shortly.
There is consensus that there should continue to be two professional European club rugby tournaments, with each tournament consisting of 20 clubs. A third tier European tournament should also be considered.
The Primary Competition would be made up of 20 clubs, with six each from PRL and the LNR, and seven from the Pro12 tournament. The clubs would come through meritocratic qualification from their respective leagues.
In the case of the Pro12, there will be at least one club guaranteed from each country.
In year one, the 20th place would be allocated through a play-off match between the 7th placed PRL and LNR clubs. For the following years, the 20th club would qualify through play-offs between the 7th placed PRL and LNR clubs and the two next non-qualified Pro12 clubs. The winner of the secondary competition would qualify to participate in the play-offs, if not already qualified by right.
The English and French clubs would have home advantage in the play-offs against the Pro12 clubs.
The Secondary Competition would consist of up to 20 clubs made up of the remaining 18 PRL, LNR and Pro12 clubs. Two places could be allocated to clubs qualifying from a third competition.
Distribution of Revenues
There is also consensus that distributable revenues generated through the competitions would be divided one third, one third, one third per league with the stipulation that monies to be received by the Pro12 countries would not be less than the current levels.
At our suggestion, all parties agreed to meet with us again within the next 10 days to discuss the implementation of these principles together with important operational and management issues.
Graeme Mew (Mediator)
Stephen Drymer (Mediator)
Ian Ritchie (RFU)
Rob Andrew (RFU)
Bill Beaumont (RFU)
Pierre Camou (FFR)
Michel Palmié (FFR)
Olivier Keraudren (FFR)
Philip Browne (IRFU)
Peter Boyle (IRFU)
Fabrizio Gaetaniello (FIR)
Andrea Rinaldo (FIR)
Nino Sacca (FIR)
Mark Dodson (SRU)
Ian McLauchlan (SRU)
Roger Lewis (WRU)
Jean-Pierre Lux (ERC)
Derek McGrath (ERC)
(FFR: Federation Francaise de Rugby; FIR: Federazione Italiana Rugby; IRFU: Irish Rugby Football Union; LNR: Ligue Nationale de Rugby; RFU: Rugby Football Union; SRU: Scottish Rugby Union; WRU: Welsh Rugby Union; ERC: European Rugby Cup)
AFP & rugby365