A new deal on European club rugby has been signed. All nine stakeholders* have underlined their commitment to an invigorated competition that will start in the 2014/5 season and meets the requirements of all the parties involved.
It is a truly meritocratic tournament, with appropriate division of finances, underpinned by a long-term agreement and strong governance. It features three cross-border club competitions to be called the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new competition called the Qualifying Competition.
RFU Chairman Bill Beaumont CBE said: “The benefits will be seen far and wide, from the clubs to the supporters, sponsors and everyone who has followed the fabulous mix of high class rugby and good natured rivalry – all played out in many spectacular towns and cities in Europe.
“The RFU, and in particular Ian Ritchie, has invested significant time over the last few months in helping to find a solution to a problem that at one stage looked difficult to solve. We are very pleased that the challenges off the pitch are concluded so we can enjoy the joys of the game on it, creating more unforgettable memories for players and fans alike.”
RFU CEO Ian Ritchie added: “This is an excellent outcome for all concerned, most importantly the players and supporters who have made European rugby what it is today. This equitable, long term agreement will provide the platform for rugby union to continue to expand across Europe, increasing interest and involvement in the game at all levels.
“I would like to credit all parties, including BT and Sky Sports, for their efforts in reaching an agreement for the benefit of the competition and the future of the sport.”
Three new cross-border club competitions will be created, to be called the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Qualifying Competition
An association will be established in Switzerland called ‘European Professional Club Rugby’ (EPCR). This body will be responsible for organising and managing the Cup Competitions.
European Rugby Champions Cup qualification
Twenty clubs qualify through the finishing positions in their leagues from the preceding season. This includes the top six from Top 14, the top six from Premiership Rugby, the top seven from Pro 12, with at least one club from each country participating in the league.
In the first season, the 20th place will be taken by the winner of a play off between the seventh-highest finishing club from Top 14 and the seventh-highest finishing club from Premiership Rugby. This play off will be played in May 2014, either as one match (in which case, there will be a draw for home advantage) or home and away over two legs.
For subsequent seasons this will be between the seventh-highest finishing club from Top 14, the seventh-highest finishing club from Premiership Rugby and the eighth- and ninth-highest finishing clubs from Pro 12 (or the two highest-finishing which have not already qualified automatically).
From the 2015 season, if the previous season’s European Rugby Challenge Cup winner has not already qualified through its finishing position in its league, it will participate in the play off by taking a place given to its league.
The play off will take place over two dates, firstly seeing the seventh-placed club in theTop 14 versus eighth or ninth from Pro 12 and the seventh club of Premiership Rugby versus eighth or ninth from Pro12. The matches will be played at the home venues of the Top 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs. The second date sees the two winners from the first matches play each other, the venue will be selected by a draw.
Finally, the quarter-final winners will play the semi-finals and the semi-final winners will play the final.
European Rugby Challenge Cup qualification
Twenty clubs qualify including 18 clubs from Top 14, Premiership Rugby and Pro 12. The two other clubs will come from the qualifying competition organised with FIRA-AER (Fédération Internationale de Rugby Amateur-Association Européenne de Rugby)
Format of both competitions
The competition will take place over nine weekends. The Pool phase will be through five Pools of four teams which will play each other home and away (six matches). The five Pool winners and the 3 best runners-up will qualify for the quarter-finals. The quarter-finals will be played at the home venues of the four best Pool winners.
Calendar of both competitions
The Pool phase will be played in three blocks of two weekends and will be completed by the end of January. The final will take place latest the first weekend of May.
EPCR will be managed through a Board of Directors representing all parties and an Executive committee in charge of commercial matters and assisting with preparations of Board meetings. The EPCR Board shall have an Independent Chairman.
The EPCR Executive will comprise the Independent Chairman, Director-General, and three voting representatives, one from each of the leagues – namely the Top 14, Premiership Rugby and Pro 12. The Director-General shall manage the day to day operations of EPCR.
Competitions will be under the aegis of the IRB and run according to the IRB Laws Relating to the Game and IRB Regulations. The parties have also agreed to form a working party to discuss and propose the principles of an integration of European competitions within an all-encompassing European rugby framework.
There is a minimum eight-year agreement.
The Qualifying Competition
This will comprise of between eight and 12 teams from Tier 2 countries and Italian clubs as agreed by EPCR & FIRA-AER.
Distribution of funds
This will be equal, i.e a third to Top 14 teams, a third to Premiership Rugby teams and a third to Pro 12 teams, with a guaranteed minimum distribution for the clubs from the Pro12 in years 1-5.
BT and Sky have reached an agreement in principle concerning arrangements for the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup competitions, both of which would be broadcast jointly by BT Sport and Sky Sports.
The pool matches would be shared equally, both will show two quarter-finals each, one semi-final each and the final would be broadcast by both live. The four-year agreement is subject to contract.
*The nine stakeholders are: Federation Francaise de Rugby (FFR), Federazione Italiana Rugby (FIR), The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), Ligue Nationale De Rugby (LNR), Premiership Rugby Ltd (PRL), Regional Rugby Wales Ltd (RRW), The Rugby Football Union (RFU), Scottish Rugby Union PLC (SRU) and The Welsh Rugby Union Ltd (WRU).
The parties take seriously their obligations to ERC and their staff and will ensure an orderly and proper transition to the new association
You can find the original statement from the RFU here.