Thursday, 10 April 2014

New European deal finally confirmed


An accord for a continental European rugby tournament for 2014/15 has finally been agreed. The new qualifying tournament for Tier 2 sides is also confirmed although there is still scant amount of precise detail on it.

After months of negotiations, the deal for a European rugby tournament next season has been confirmed. As we pretty much knew before, the European Rugby Champions Cup will be a 20 team tournament with a more meritocratic qualifying system for Pro12 teams than before. Whilst the European Rugby Challenge Cup will be the remaining 18 clubs from the 3 main leagues plus 2 others from a new third tournament called "The Qualifying Competition".

The European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC) will now die in the summer. It will be replaced a new governing body called European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), based in a more neutral venue of Switzerland as opposed to the ERC's Dublin base.

What should be big positive news for Tier 2 nations is that in theory they all now are presented with the chance to earn their place in the tournament. Under the previous regime there were 6 spots for sides outside the main 3 leagues but they were chosen by blazers, who often picked the easiest as opposed to most logical or deserving.

However despite the announcement of the tournament, there is still an utter paucity of detail on it. 425 words on the confirmation statement were spent explaining the the Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup, who plays in it and when it will be played. There are just 25 on "The Qualifying Competition".
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.
If we are being honest, there seems to have been a complete lack of attention to this tournament and how it will work amongst the negotiations.

The statement says it will be "comprise of between 8 and 12 teams from Tier 2 countries and Italian clubs". FIRA will organise the tournament alongside with EPRC.

However aside from the confirmation that the Italian clubs who previously were in the Amlin Challenge Cup will feature in the tournament there is no detail whatsoever on what the teams will be or the format of the tournament, and there are several unanswered key questions that need to be addressed.
- Which precise countries will get teams involved and how many?

- Will teams be genuine clubs or Union run development teams? 

- What exactly will the tournament format, layout and schedule be?

- If hypothetically a qualifying team went on a winning run in the tournament, would they still have to go through qualifying the next year whilst teams they beat got in the tournament automatically?

- Travel over the continent costs money and the Spanish failed to meet the funds to play in this year's Amlin Challenge Cup, so who's paying when the distances covered could potentially be even bigger if Eastern Europe is involved?

- Russia have a summer season and their domestic league runs from May to October which is scheduled over the proposed September window for the tournament, how would they get around that?

- And if they do, Russia has the unique problem of being simply too cold to play a tournament running through mid winter, where would they play their home games?

With so much fundamental detail missing it is hard to form too much of a view on the tournament at this point. However looking at it from glass half full point of view, the new meritocracy is principally a good thing. Despite winning 7 of the past 8 ENC tournaments, Georgia have never had a team compete in a European domestic tournament.

The ERC system which was just blazers picking the teams shunned them and opted more with what was easiest and most convenient as opposed to who was most deserving, which meant Union run development teams and mid table Spanish sides managed to sneak into the tournament. If done correctly (and that's a big if as we hardly know any detail), this should allow teams and certain countries to earn chances they previously couldn't get.

Obviously though, the new tournament will inevitably have it's flaws and won't be perfect. However we should bear in mind that the only alternative was a victory for those in favour of the ERC remaining and the status quo, which was negligent in the way it managed the ENC nations. So at the very least, the more preferable of the two options for the Tier 2 nations is happening.

1 comment :

  1. ultravioletu11/4/14 10:35 am

    I really do hope that the Qualification is a club-only competition. And that it doesn't have a stupid rule that guarantees the Italian sides a place - I don't see how they could get in front of Romanian, Russian or Georgian clubs.

    Perhaps it'll also open the door beyond the "usual suspects" - for instance, the German side Heidelberger RK really has no match - neither in the Bundesliga, nor in the cross-border competitions they played in the last years. While probably they're not strong enough to qualify for Challenge Cup, they can't be worse than the italian sides, and I'm sure they'll relish a couple of competitive games instead of the boring 60+ wins they bring in even with their B-squad every week (since they rest the first choice picks for the national side or for the play-off, which is about to start)