The Champions Cup for Winningest Winners

As one canny tweeter pointed out yesterday, with each public utternace, the LNR, the PRL, the unions and the ERC become more and more entrenched in their position. It’s increasingly hard to see how a resolution will be achieved.  In what has become a particularly ugly game of high-stakes poker, the current strategy on all sides is to continually over-raise one another ad infinitum.

Yesterday we had Bath chairman Bruce Craig, a man with the greater good of the game no doubt at the forefront of his mind, effectively blackmail the Celtalian unions.  If you do not join our ‘fabulous new European competition’, said the man who paid Beaver to eat out, you will face ‘financial oblivion’.  The highlight of his little outburst was his assertion that the Cup for Winningest Winners was going to ‘save European rugby’.   Those who didn’t know exactly what European rugby needed saving from now had their answer: these guys.

Then Jacky Lorenzetti, the Racing Metro chairman, laid out the grand scope of the new competition.  It will apparently include South African, Australian and New Zealand franchises, a veritable World Club Cup.  How such a thing could possibly work has not been revealed.  The fact that England and France are on literally the opposite corner of the globe to New Zealand and Australia appears to have gone unheeded.  Will Bath be trekking the 30-plus hours required to get to Canterbury to play a Cham-pi-on-es Cup match against the Crusaders? And get toasted by 60 points based on current squads?  It looks like a ludicrous over-bet.  Perhaps the next step for those on the other side of the table is to the call them on it.

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32 Comments

  1. Mike

     /  September 26, 2013

    I say call them on it. Its just not going to happen.

    The unions would be better served putting together some kind of International Champions Cup. Part 1 takes place in the June Test window and Part 2 in the November test window, with some kind of final 4 series slotted in in either early Dec or Jan. The 6 nations stays as it is. It gives some meaning to all tests and will stop half baked squads travelling down under each June to get stuffed. That way the Celtic unions get the moolah they need, and the RFU & FFR keep control out of the clubs hands.

    The Rabo could continue as it is (a development league) and the Top 14 is happy (as they cant be arsed with anything else really). This will leave Bruce and chums high and dry with everyone else happy.

    How do you like those apples?

    • Amiga500

       /  September 26, 2013

      Or just make the 6 nations home and away….

      • Mike

         /  September 26, 2013

        Yea, could do. Winter and Spring series…

        The HC has 6 rounds. There are 6 weekends already penciled in for North v South internationals, so we are talking about 12 weekends. If there was an international series (akin to the Fedex Cup in golf) whereby the top 8 in the world rankings played for the ‘International Champions Cup’ (8-16 played for something else etc etc) and a playoff final then i can see the 12 weekends filled up nicely.

        If we use the 3 HC playoff weekends to bring back the old inter pro’s then all in it think we wont miss the HC. Mcafferty and co. can have their little tournament whereby the English clubs minus their internationals play against the French reserve teams and can continue with the Anglo Welsh Cup (how much longer will TV persist with that…) and i think we are all happy.

        BTW – the thought of Southern Hemisphere teams in this new tournament is ludicrous. Aside from the obvious travel and calendar issues, the ‘clubs’ in SANSAR are akin to the Irish provinces, i.e. controlled by the unions who wont go for this.

        I think that Bruce was sounding desperate yesterday.

        • Lop12

           /  September 26, 2013

          you really think we wouldnt miss the HC in those circumstances. Seems optimistic. Plus the inter-pros wouldnt be as good when it would likely be no more than the current A squads having an interpro series. The players will be gone.

          Agree that the world wide tourament is a red herring barely worthy of comment.

          • Mike

             /  September 26, 2013

            We (Irish provincial fans) would miss it, but I think that most English / French / Scottish / Welsh / Italian fans prefer watching the national team.

            I quite like the idea of the old inter pro’s. The derbies are the most interesting (and best attended) games in the Rabo.

            I’m not sure the Irish players would be off either. The income the IRFU would make would probably equal or exceed what they get from the HC. We would probably lose the 2nd level overseas guys, but each province would probably be able to keep at least one star overseas player.

  2. Good post. I agree with Mike. The Unions have to face the cowboys down or a handful of club owners will rule the roost and not just the Celtic League but also test rugby will be ruined.

  3. ruckinhell

     /  September 26, 2013

    Interesting “tactics” from the Anglofrog breakaways. The S15 franchises are mostly run with significant input from the Sanzar Unions, so given the m.o. of the breakaway clubs to have a “club-run” competition, this can only be taken as a direct challenge to the SANZAR running of the S15 competition. Is this a line in the sand “come at us if you’re hard enough” challenge or are we giving them too much credit and this is just a load of sporadically released press statements?

    The brinkmanship is getting surreal at this stage, it’s clear that the breakaway clubs have no interest yet ERC and the various Unions are still taking about mediation and negotiations. It’s like two completely different discussionsa re going on and neither side is willing to admit this. Nothing will get done in such a “statement by press” enviroment. I think the ERC and the Unions should call the clubs bluff and let them pull out. I think that the Anglo-French clubs are beginning to overegg their hand and unless they want to create a new Rugby League like schism away from Union I htink they’re actually in a rather weak position, shadowiy BT TV deal aside.

  4. Killers

     /  September 26, 2013

    I thought yesterdays statement from Bruce Craig smacked a bit of desperation, esp as the FFR and IRB had clarified their positions earlier in the week. By prophesying doom for the celtic an italian clubs if they don’t come and play it their way, he’s seems to have gone ‘all-in’ on a pair of twos. Time to call that bluff…

  5. Ultra Sur

     /  September 26, 2013

    I think they’re sounding increasingly desperate. The loose talk of court cases based on restraint of trade sounded like a very hollow threat (the unions/IRB can do plenty to cripple them without preventing them forming their own comp) and the attempt to invite Sanzar “clubs” will only heighten the threat level down south, thereby adding three more vested interests to the already formidable lineup opposite them.

    I reckon they’ve lost and they know it. They’ll get their “wish” for more meritocratic qualification from the Pro 12 and probably a “fairer” distribution of the spoils, neither of which was their main objective. And I wouldn’t be too convinced that they are prohibited from signing up by their deal with BT. I’m beginning to think that might have been exaggerated to increase the pressure on other parties to join their party. There has to be a reason they haven’t shown any details to anyone. No-one could genuinely have signed on a deal so onerous to other would-be contractual parties as to be prohibitive. It just doesn’t make sense

    • Amiga500

       /  September 26, 2013

      “No-one could genuinely have signed on a deal so onerous to other would-be contractual parties as to be prohibitive. It just doesn’t make sense”

      Well, McCafferty does sound quite the idiot to me…

      • Ultra Sur

         /  September 26, 2013

        I reckon he knows exactly what he’s doing. He has brought them to the point that the minimum they’ll get is a significantly bigger slice of the European pie while at the same time weakening rivals in the Pro 12 and likely leading to the disbandment of the ERC. When the dust has settled, he’ll have raised the PRL’s base bargaining position for the next time they hold a gun to the heads of everyone else in Europe (which is as predictable as the sun rising in the morning).

        He’s certainly playing a game where he can’t be part of any solution but I suspect that was his role all along.

        Where he may have made an error is in overegging the pudding and lining up such union opposition as to cripple the PRL in negotiations but I reckon they’ll row back before that happens (tipped off by the RFU, who are waiting in the wings to see what way the chips fall).

        All of that supposes that the threat not to be part of a European competition they don’t control is just hyperbole.

        • Amiga500

           /  September 26, 2013

          “He has brought them to the point that the minimum they’ll get is a significantly bigger slice of the European pie while at the same time weakening rivals in the Pro 12 and likely leading to the disbandment of the ERC.”

          Certainly if I was negotiating on behalf of the IRFU; there would not be one penny more going PRL’s direction than is the case currently.

          I really would be tempted to just isolate them for a few years. The financial penalties that would ensue would result in the RFU gaining greater control over them – which would only be beneficial in the long run.

          • Ultra Sur

             /  September 26, 2013

            Yeah if I were with the IRFU I’d be aiming to make sure they were buried beyond redemption by rallying the unions and crippling them as much as possible. If they don’t nail this now, they’ll be doing it again in x years (as everyone said last time), only next time the clubs will have more power to start with.

          • toro toro

             /  September 26, 2013

            The problem is, they won’t be isolated as long as they keep the French onside. And there’s really nothing the IRFU can do to affect that.

          • Amiga500

             /  September 27, 2013

            The FFR have pretty much torpedoed the LNR being involved in any separate competition with the PRL.

  6. Perhaps the IRB need to gently remind the RFU that hosting the RWC in 2015 is a privilege. One that can be taken away very easily. The lies and dissembling from the PRL is putrid in the extreme. Their revolting tactics turned out not to be after all, about the Celts getting a few quid over the odds or the lie that their top players play less than the English. It was a vicious attempt to emasculate the smaller Unions, force them towards financial ruin in a cretinous attempt to justify their whining about how unfair it was that they had to play against all those ‘weaker’ sides. If the RFU don’t stand firm then there will be no 6 Nations. England will be on their own. This would suit them as they could then call themselves The Champions until their tiny metaphoric genitalia looked normal; sized.

  7. Len

     /  September 26, 2013

    I’ve been thinking about the BT deal and I’m not convinced they have as solid a deal as they make out. I buy them having a deal re prem games but not the European games. A deal like this would involve a lot of due diligence by solicitors on both sides. Now I assume BT have a decent legal set up and no Corporate Solicitor worth their salt would have missed the fact that the PRL are currently tied to a deal through the ERC or that should they try to break away they need the support of the RFU, the FFR, LNR and the IRB. That make the PRLs ability to sell the rights to European rugby very tentative. I’d imagine the figures they mentioned are either mainly or partly based on them delivering European cup rugby. That makes their position a lot weaker. I’d be tempted to say we’ll amend the HC to 20 teams and divide the spoils more evenly and change the qualification and then tell the PRL to take a running jump. The LNR could probably convinced to stay put. A season or two in the cold might humble the PRL.

    • Mike

       /  September 26, 2013

      If i was a B.T executive I would hate whats going on. They are trying to pump money into the game, and are being made out to be the villains. I think their image is getting really badly tarnished by all this.

      • Ultra Sur

         /  September 26, 2013

        They’re not being presented as villains in their target market – England. Quite the opposite in fact. Every media release by PRL (and there have been loads) has been lapped up unquestioningly by an acquiescent UK media and nearly every single article has failed to even present the other side of the argument. BT are being presented as part of a visionary crusade to free rugger from the dastardly Celtic unions.

        • Mike

           /  September 26, 2013

          The English fans aren’t stupid (and Leicester aside more interested in the national team). They can see that the HC has been destroyed, and if something better (which is unlikely) doesn’t replace it, BT will come out of this looking very bad.

  8. Paddy o

     /  September 26, 2013

    Their negotiating position is busted at this stage. Trying to cosy in on super rugby and sideline the Sanzargs in the process is the absolute clincher. The unions – if they were of a mind – could use international rugby (as outlined above) to absolutely grind English club rugby “franchises” as a whole under their heel. The unions probably won’t do that (though they must be sorely tempted and the more international based calendar might actually suit the LNR), but given half the chance it would appear PLR would indeed do that to the rest of Europe. Given how emboldened PLR have become by BT, it would be interesting to see what sky lobby for there! The Heineken/Sky International cup anyone?!

    If PLR and LNR clubs do come back into the fold to compete, then whatever about the merits of meritocracy, or money, or number of teams, or structure arguments, I would suggest that they should lose their seats within the ERC. They have shown themselves to be totally incapable of looking at anything other than their own interests and as such their seats within the governing body are untenable. The RFU and FFR should get those back. I know we all give out a bit about the institutionalised blazers and wot not, but when it comes to governing a sport, I know I’m happier with Bill Beaumont and his old farts, than these other flashy wind bags. That last bit really doesn’t read well, does it?

    • Mike

       /  September 26, 2013

      The silence from Sky is interesting. I think they are of the view that they have seen it all before and are cutting their ties with the Aviva clubs until the BT thing burns itself out. Unless you own the set top boxes its a hard industry to make money in. They have seen ITV digital, Setanta, and ESPN all come and go, so don’t want to get into a bidding war.

      They have committed to showing 33 Rabo games from the start of next season, so the whole mess could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Rabo league.

      • @Completebore

         /  September 30, 2013

        I agree that Sky have seen off a bunch of supposed rivals over the years and will probably see off BT as well, but the battle is different this time – its about broadband, not TV. BT Sports is being used as a loss-leader for broadband coverage in the same way as the supermarkets use cheap booze. I’m not sure how much money BT are willing to lose in TV to prop up the broadband, but a profitable TV channel is not the end-game as it was with all the others.

        • Michael Robinson

           /  September 30, 2013

          There is more than one way to address the market. Virgin provide broadband, phone and TV and they don’t buy up sports rights. There won’t be a blank cheque for BT spending on sports rights. If the subscriber numbers don’t meet expectations, then you can expect their approach to change, but this may take a year or more to play out.

  9. Abitofshoepie

     /  September 26, 2013

    It will be very embarrassing for Mr Craig if Bath still can’t qualify or this proposed diluted best of the best competition….

  10. Paddy o

     /  September 26, 2013

    Cheers Mike. A good English friend of mine, who is a quintessential rugger bugger was visiting a few years ago around Christmas. When I suggested we take in one of the rabo derbies, his response was “oh that’s the unfair competition that is the reason why you keep beating us.” I was pretty taken aback by his ignorance of what was going on. I told him “no, that’s because you guys need to work harder and smarter on the pitch.” It is jut a straw poll of one person, but you have to think the rabo will benefit from an English audience seeing it and they realising it is not what they’ve been told it is (though keeping it on terrestrial channels here is a pretty brilliant part of growing the grassroots interest). Great work by the pro 12 people really – they will get a bright, shiny new sponsor easily enough you’d imagine too. This particular English fella really enjoyed the game, although he left asking what was the likes of ruan pienaar doing running around over here (!) – exasperating man, I know.

    At the moment (whilst not perfect) it is a really honourable and growing competition. Ospreys do so much for it, whilst some of the Glasgow, Ulster, Leinster games were just magnificent last year and despite Ulster not winning the final, the game and occasion itself were the best tributes to the Spence family that you could possibly imagine. The games already this season suggest an even tougher tournament is underway. It is frustrating when the pro 12 gets beat up on, when you think of how and why it was formed and how far it has come. Has it enough roots to survive a Cold War hiatus though, if that becomes the end game here? Whatever way the end game goes, I think you are bang on that it won’t look pretty for BT, at least from a PR point of view. They are left with the premiership. I do actually like the premiership too, but you can see highlights for it on ITV….wait for it….4. You have to wonder how much the average Joe cares? God, it is a bit surreal to be supporting sky in this corporate warfare, who’d of thunk it.

  11. The sneaking problem we have is that if the HEC doesn’t happen, even for one season, the French could march ahead with the Top16, and it might be difficult to get them back. And even if they do come back, the HEC will be back down where it was 10 years ago in their priority list.

    Plus one year out would be catastrophic financially for the Irish provinces, who could well end up losing all their players to the Top16.

    • Ultra Sur

       /  September 27, 2013

      Which is when we negotiate a permanent Lions League with the home unions (just throwing it out there)

  12. Roy Allen

     /  September 27, 2013

    It must now be clear to everyone that the English clubs, followed by the French, were always intent on wresting control of the sport from the unions. This dispute is not about qualification issues or revenue sharing in the Heineken Cup (all of which the other countries and the ERC were willing to negotiate) but all about a few egotists with delusions of grandeur running over-hyped, mediocre teams trying to milk every last penny from the sport of rugby. By doing so, they are in danger of killing the game. The IRB, RFU and FFR must take a stand; any competition created without their consent will be illegal and anyone who takes part in it should be banned from international rugby.

  13. L.P.O.

     /  September 27, 2013

    At present 2/6 of the Unions get nearly half the pot from the European Cup. England and France get 48% of the dosh. The rest is split between the Italoceltians. The idea that the Pro XII be equated with the other leagues, even though it is a European competition itself, and represents 4 Unions, rather than the one in France or England, would see a new split in the money- with the Frangles (I like that one) getting 66.666%, while being together one 33.333% of the Unions… The money divide is already weighted unfairly in their favour. Not a penny more should go in their directions. We also deserve our berths for the reasons stated above. Top ten into the Cup, regardless of nationality, should be the only concession made.

    O’Shea made their case on RTE, stating Zebre get more money than Quins for competing. He didn’t mention that the Italians get a tiny slice of pie, which they split in two between their only two teams… whereas the English get a disproportionately massive slice of pie which they split evenly between all of their teams. And sadly, nobody called him on that carefully concocted piece of disinformation. They English decided how many teams to have, and how to divide their massive slice. If he wants more money for Quins if they do well, he should take it up with them. Not a penny more!!!

    • Michael Robinson

       /  September 30, 2013

      There are actually 6 Italian teams in ERC competitions; 2 in the HEC, 4 in the ACC. The Italians choose to give the lions share of their money to the HEC teams. The English could do the same if they wanted to.

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