From next season there will be three cross-border club competitions to be played under European Professional Club Rugby.
The European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and a new competition called the Qualifying Competition have been formed, with 20 teams playing in the top tier and also in the second tier tournament.
Thursday's announcement brings to a conclusion months of discussions between different parties as it was confirmed that all nine stakeholders underlined their commitment to an invigorated competition that will start during 2014-15. And crucially the deal meets the requirements of all the parties involved, with the format shown below.
European Rugby Champions Cup qualification
Twenty clubs qualifying through the finishing positions in their leagues from the preceding season:
– Top six from Top 14.
– Top six from Premiership Rugby.
– Top seven from Pro12, 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 between:
– For the first season: 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 as home/away.
– For subsequent seasons: 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 Pro12 (or the two highest finishing which have not already qualified automatically).
– From 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:
– First date: Seventh club of Top 14 versus eighth or ninth from Pro12 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.
– Second date: The two winners from the first matches. The venue will be selected by a draw.
European Rugby Challenge Cup qualification
– Twenty clubs comprising 18 clubs from Top 14, Premiership Rugby and Pro12.
– Two clubs 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 three 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. The quarter-final winners will play the semi-finals and the semi-final winners will play the final.
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.
The qualifying competition will compromise between eight and 12 teams from tier-two countries and Italian clubs as agreed by EPCR and FIRA-AER.
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 Pro12. 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.
A minimum eight-year agreement
Equal distribution of funds, ie, a third to Top 14 teams, a third to Premiership Rugby teams and a third to Pro12 teams, with a guaranteed minimum distribution for the clubs from the Pro12 in years one to five.
In addition to the news, 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 the pair.
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.
Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP Photo