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Monday, April 21, 2014

The new European Rugby Champions Cup explained

The future of European rugby is now clear after months of speculation ended recently with an agreement between the relevant parties, resulting in the new European Rugby Champions Cup. Here is a breakdown of how things will work from next season.

For some time now the English and French clubs had expressed their unhappiness with the format of the Heineken Cup, culminating in talks of them intending to dispand and set up their own tournament in September of last year. 

After months of talks, we're at the point where everyone is on the same page, and the European Rugby Champions Cup and the European Rugby Challenge Cup (second tier) were signed on.

The two major players in the TV rights, BT Sport and Sky Sports have agreed to share coverage.

The tournament, run by the newly formed European Professional Club Rugby, will feature 20 teams.

European Rugby Champions Cup qualification:
20 clubs qualifying through the finishing positions in their leagues from the preceding season:

- top 6 from TOP 14
- top 6 from Premiership Rugby
- top 7 from PRO 12, with at least one club from each country participating in the league
- the 20th place will be taken by the winner of a play off (first season different to following)

The format and finer points of the tournament/s are a bit more complicated, but that's the basic premise and this new video from BT Sport explains things quite clearly. As we get nearer the time, we will go through other facets of it, but for now it looks like it's a positive step in the right direction.

What do you think of the new qualification setup?

Posted at 1:40 pm | 28 comments

Viewing 28 comments

Damien April 21, 2014 4:51 pm

Think this screws the Celtic sides. 7 teams from 4 nations compared to 13 from 2 is insane when you consider the Irish have had as good or better record than any other nation recently. It will make the Rabo Direct league far more competitive though as a bonus. I fear for the club game in Scotland and Wales without European games.

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Ithilsul April 26, 2014 9:14 am

Sorry, but I don't agree. Or I would phrase it differently: yes, the new system screws the Celtic teams, but this is justice knowing that the previous system screwed French + English teams.
I mean, do you realise that, from the 12 teams of Pro12, 10 are qualified (83% of them), even being the last 4, were they all Scottish + Italian?
In the same time, English and French teams had to really struggle to have their ticket to the H-Cup (6 over 12 in Premiership – 50% ; 6 over 14 in Top14 – 43%).

In addition to that, the ancient system was also clearly biased towards the Celtic teams, and especially the dominating Irish: qualification not really being a problem, they are all aiming to the H-Cup, keeping their strength for the european competition. And the results are there.

In a nutshell, the new system gives back qome equity in the qualification process.

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Damien April 26, 2014 1:54 pm

I agree the previous system was flawed but two wrongs don't make a right. Ideally the European Cup should contain the best teams in Europe with some spaces reserved for ensuring equal participation across Europe. If only 2 of the Welsh or Irish sides qualify then the best 20 teams will not be in the competition. With this system a Team can come 6th in the Rabo Direct and not qualify. A more fair solution would be to increase the number of playoffs between the leagues and allow for some highly competitive pre-season matches.

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Nick April 21, 2014 7:14 pm

When you look at the standard of players in the Premiership in comparison to the standard in the Rabo there isn't too much of a difference. however, there are massive implications for the Rabo teams. The Irish have the best teams and if 1 of them are left out, it will cause them to suffer financially. as for the scottish teams, they aren't too compettive anyway and maybe being in the 2nd tier competition isnt too bad for them. the welsh sides are going to suffer big time now from player drain. but to me, the strong 3 Irish provinces are worst hit by this. and its not as if they aren't heavy weights in European competition.

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Reality April 21, 2014 7:20 pm

I like the bit at the beginning where they declare that everyone is happy. Evidently Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian clubs don't count as part of the definition of 'everyone'.

They've been completely screwed over and I think it's pretty miserable of these analysts not to recognise that. The whole 'based on merit' thing is ostensibly a half-decent argument but isn't actually the case considering that Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues and Zebre will be excluded whereas English teams like Bath, Sale and Wasps (currently in top 7) will be there. The French clubs will largely merit their places for the simple fact that they've bought in loads of foreigners to play for them.

Also, due to the new qualification system teams that win the Challenge Cup won't even qualify, so I think that's a massive backward step for that competition. It's gone from being somewhat important with a decent prize to a nothing competition.

A bit of reality from the analysts would be appreciated. Making it out as if the English and French had to give concessions to the Pro 12 in the form of an extra place is just so disingenuous considering that in giving that extra place they also removed three others.

As Damien above said, this is probably just going to aggravate Wales, Italy, Scotland and to an extent Ireland's problems at club and international national.

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Facepalm April 21, 2014 8:54 pm

I wouldn't take anything Austin Healy says seriously. This is clearly favourable to English and French teams and I can't believe the Irish actually agreed to this.

Personally I think there should be more spots given to playoffs. Make it a true *meritocracy and let the borderline teams battle it out.

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Reality April 21, 2014 10:10 pm

The problem is that the Irish didn't really agree to it per se; they were forced to either accept this or not play European Cup rugby after the threat of boycott from the English, French and turncoat Welsh and their refusal to negotiate. The English and French could survive a year without it and do something else but the Irish, Scottish and Italians definitely couldn't.

The playoff idea is good but it'd be very difficult to implement because it would mean more matches in an already jam-packed season. It would have to be done after the leagues have finished and adding an extra few weeks to the season could cause problems in terms of logistics and also player welfare.

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Facepalm April 22, 2014 3:50 pm

For Rabo clubs already strapped for cash surely the prospect of more European games can only be good.

I remember a few years ago when the recession was at its worst they were considering adding some extra games to the Aviva season purely for this reason.

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Reality April 21, 2014 7:22 pm

I like the bit at the beginning where they declare that everyone is happy. Evidently Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian clubs don't count as part of the definition of 'everyone'.

They've been completely screwed over and I think it's pretty miserable of these analysts not to recognise that. The whole 'based on merit' thing is ostensibly a half-decent argument but isn't actually the case considering that Edinburgh, Cardiff Blues and Zebre will be excluded whereas English teams like Bath, Sale and Wasps (currently in top 7) will be there. The French clubs will largely merit their places for the simple fact that they've bought in loads of foreigners to play for them.

Also, due to the new qualification system teams that win the Challenge Cup won't even qualify, so I think that's a massive backward step for that competition. It's gone from being somewhat important with a decent prize to a nothing competition.

A bit of reality from the analysts would be appreciated. Making it out as if the English and French had to give concessions to the Pro 12 in the form of an extra place is just so disingenuous considering that in giving that extra place they also removed three others.

As Damien above said, this is probably just going to aggravate Wales, Italy, Scotland and to an extent Ireland's problems at club and international national.

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Rugbyguy77 April 21, 2014 7:35 pm

Glasgow Warriors are currently 4th in the Pro 12 and have finished in the top 4 in 3 of the last 4 seasons, a Scottish club has made the semis or better six times between 2001 and 2013 and Edinburgh were Heineken Cup semifinalists in 2011-12.

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Vladimir April 21, 2014 8:36 pm

I agree this system is biased toward Eng/Fr competitions. But the current one is completely biaised toward Irish/Welsh teams.
Do the latter want a really competitive domestic Pro 12 or not?
As for french and english teams currently only a few teams can afford to play with full commitment on both competitions (Toulon, Saracens, Leicester perhaps). I mean even Clermont and Toulouse have to calculate which matches 'they will not play' with the a-squad to keep them rested at crucial times of the year. The rest of the french teams cannot afford to fight for the top spots on both competitions: they have to make a choice and they always prefer the Top14 (Castres, Montpellier, SF, RM).
On the contrary Irish/Welsh teams do not have to fight that hard to earn their spot years after years.

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redwan_ April 21, 2014 9:58 pm

I agree that the irish teams are getting shafted here, but I dont think its as bad as its being made out for Ireland. If you took the draw right now as it stands, you'd have Leinster, Warriors, Ospreys and Treviso as the one-from-each-country and then Munster, Ulster and Scarlets. So you'd have the top three Irish, which is what was before, and since Leinster and Munster are regular top of the table teams, with Ulster up there more often the last couple of years, I don't think it will make that big a difference in Ireland. In Scotland, where we already have money problems, only having one team qualifying (since Edinburgh have been dire, and only seem to be getting worse..) is going to put the SRU in an even worse position than it was before. Same thing in Wales. Its only the Scarlets and Ospreys that will ever really get into this competition. The Dragons and the Blues will become second rate.

While I can agree that the top 14 is a better league than the Rabo, I disagree that the Premiership is. The average is higher for sure, but teams like Leinster, Glasgow, most of the whole top half of the Rabo are competitive in Europe and would be competitive in the Premiership. I think the English have complained and moaned their way to getting more teams into this European champions cup of whatever. They're not in it on merit. They really should have many more play-off spots.

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Reality April 21, 2014 10:20 pm

I'd go as far as to say the average in the Premiership is not higher than the Pro 12; it's just more publicised and praised. For people's information this is the current table of both leagues.

1. Saracens - Leinster
2. Northampton - Munster
3. Bath - Ulster
4. Leicester - Glasgow
5. Harlequins - Ospreys
6. Sale - Scarlets
7. Wasps - Cardiff
8. Exeter - Edinburgh
9. Gloucester - Connacht
10. London Irish - Dragons
11. Newcastle - Treviso
12. Worcester - Zebre

Outside of the top four they seem like pretty even match-ups. For 5 to 12 I can imagine home wins for all teams, except maybe number 10. Then in the top four I'd say most would agree that it's 3 out of 4 for the Pro 12.

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Vladimir April 22, 2014 8:29 am

Very interesting! This gives a better overview of what the reality of every league is.
I completed the picture with the french teams.

1. Saracens - Leinster - Toulon
2. Northampton - Munster - Montpellier
3. Bath - Ulster - Clermont
4. Leicester - Glasgow - Racing-Métro 92
5. Harlequins - Ospreys - Castres
6. Sale - Scarlets - Toulouse
7. Wasps - Cardiff - Stade Français
-----------------------------------------------
8. Exeter - Edinburgh - Union Bordeaux-Bègles
9. Gloucester - Connacht - Brive
10. London Irish - Dragons - Grenoble
11. Newcastle - Treviso - Bayonne
12. Worcester - Zebre - Oyonnax
13. - - Perpignan
14. - - Biarritz

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Full Back April 22, 2014 6:01 pm

that's a great way of looking at it.
I agree that the situation favours Rabo teams less than before, but I'm not sure "shafted" is an apt term.
How often does a team finish at 8th place or less in the Rabo while remaining competitive in Europe?
I think the Irish big 3 will still be in Europe as they usually don't have much difficulty in finishing in the top 7...nor should they.
Let's see how it works out, personally I think that if it's a case of this or no Heineken cup, I'd rather this!

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redwan_ April 22, 2014 11:17 pm

Well 8th place at the moment are Edinburgh, and they are usually very surprisingly competitive in Europe. Beat Toulouse in the Quarter-finals two years ago! Although I will concede that you're right on that. Are the 7th/8th placed teams in the Premiership competitive in Europe? Who knows, they wouldn't have been in Europe before.. Its not a bad solution, its just one that favours England and France. But yeah, I'd rather some form of european competition, even if it isn't perfect!

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Wildman April 21, 2014 10:57 pm

Edinburgh came in last in the pro 12 that year. When the h cup was going well for them they started to field shit teams because there is no consequences in the pro 12 for losing teams .m

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The florist April 21, 2014 11:48 pm

Well where does one start? The world according to BT! In the beginning the was no successful European rugby tourment, it never was, no history, no fantastic memories, just nothing, then great men of money arrived and.... You get the picture!
This my friends is about money mainly BT's need to expand it's broadband network customer bace, the owners of "premiership" rugby have little interest player welfair, just buy another one from one of those Celtic minnow clubs! it's all about the money!
So here is my wish, Irish teams keep winning "the Heineken cup light" the odd time a French win, and then the "premiership" can again throw another tantrum and have another hissy fit and keep changing the rules until the win something.
Maybe I'm over reacting but my god that S*** from the "premiership is a hard guy to like, mind you had to laugh at the line "great diplomacy shown"
Ah the world according BT! Great bunch, thank you for saving us from the history we never had!

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shandy18 April 22, 2014 9:07 am

How does this screw the Irish over? they will have 3 teams in the competition next season based on their merit. You can argue either side of the coin, should the countries within the pro 12 be treated as separate entities or should they be treated as a whole because they play in a combined league. if treated as separate entities of course they are getting screwed over, but as a league they actually have it better than the English/French with 7 guaranteed entrants. Their decision to amalgamate their own national league competitions into the celtic league obviously does have/had its benefits but it may also have its draw back (which this may be one) but unfortunately you can always have your cake and eat it.

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FatProp April 22, 2014 9:10 am

maybe i'm looking at this from a biased English point of view but I don't think it's too bad. For years you have had teams like Connacht and Treviso in the Hcup that just didn't deserve their place. Yes sometimes they would cause an upset, like Connacht v Toulouse, but for every upset there was about 6 blow outs. The comparison showing the leagues to me I feel that there is a hell of a lot more depth in the prem. In the top 4 positions I would say Leinster win- Northampton50/50 Munster-Ulster- Leicester then from that down most of them are prem wins. Under the last system you could finish 12th in your league and still qualify !!! How is that fair to a team like Wasps who finish 7th in their league ? And the comment about the Scottish clubs doing well in the HCup well they can throw everything at the cup because they qualified by right for it the next year, whereas the French and English teams had to compete on both fronts to trying to get in next year.

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Colm April 22, 2014 1:52 pm

As an Irish fan I don't mind the competition too much. What does irk me is the money divide. Italian and Scottish unions getting as much as Welsh and Irish despite having half as many teams to fund is silly. I think Ulster may struggle next year as they are about to lose Afoa, Court, Muller etc but should still be good enough for a top six finish. I think the top three provinces in IReland will still be good enough next year to remain in top 6, the question is, can Connacht usurp the like of Scarlets/Edinburgh and Dragons to make it 4 Irish provinces which would really be a hammer blow to the Welsh and the Scottish. As a system it's very fair. I just wish money was divided better and the winner of the 2nd tier comp got a place in the top tier

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FatProp April 22, 2014 2:24 pm

I think the winner of the 2nd tier gets into the top tier competition, not this year but from then on. That's what I thought I heard on sky.

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krip April 22, 2014 2:17 pm

I really think that there should be more than 2 places for FIRA-AER clubs in the Challenge Cup. Like 4 to 6...

Romania, Georgia, Portugal, Spain, Russia and even Netherlands have semi-professional rugby and their top teams deserve a place in this tournament. Rugby players, fans and the sport in general will greatly benefit in these countries if that happens.

Why would I like to see Worcester better than Bucurest Wolves for example...

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Mastersa April 22, 2014 8:14 pm

I agree, the newer format stunts the growth of the game, and undeniably rightly or wrongly put more money into elite English and French clubs. Most of the comments here already acknowledge some Welsh and Scottish clubs as second tier and it's only a matter of a few short years before we see a European premiership and any outside of that going broke.

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FreeScotland April 22, 2014 6:31 pm

I worry for professional rugby in Scotland, Italy and Wales. In the foreseeable future there should be 3 Irish teams, same as before, but with european income so important to rabo league countries there may not be a professional celtic league for long. Particularly considering the finacial woes of the SRU. Having eight rabo teams would have spiced up the league too because there would be something to fight for at the bottom rather than the current situation with a top/bottom divide in the league which will likely see the same teams qualify each year. As for the BT sport coverage it is pretty patronising because im sure everybody in english rugby is happy not so much elsewhere. With rugby aiming to expand internationally this seems a bit of a backward step that may restrict the ambitions of smaller coutries.

The second tier competition has been made a bit of a throw away too without qualification to the main competition. Seeing as some teams dont value the competition as well places could have been offered to winners of semi-pro tournaments such as the british and irish cup.

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ConnachtMan April 23, 2014 12:44 pm

I read that BT have exclusive rights for an Ash Splash cam which can be watched for only and extra £1 per match!

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Ashamed Englishman April 25, 2014 4:19 pm

Either way you look at this it will benefit the Rabo teams because it will show even more clearly how inept the English teams are at euro level.
Supposed English champions elect Saracens barely beat a 14 man outfit in the last round.

Do we really want to go ahead with this.
The Celtic teams will be laughing up their sleeves at this.

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guest April 28, 2014 5:29 am

Really can't understand some of the comments on here about how the rabo is shafted. Yes you have it worse off than before but over 50% of the league has a chance of qualifying plus there is a guaranteed spot for every nation. Irish teams who normally dominate should have no problem finishing in top 6. Scarlett and ospreys will always be competitive and most likely be in top 6 then you have Glasgow or Edingburgh. That's your top 6 plus an Italian side. Are the other teams competitive in Europe currently? I don't think so.
Plus there is the 2nd tier competition which should have some very competitive matches.

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