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European Rugby Champions Cup is born as Sky and BT reach TV rights agreement

The Heineken Cup is no more as a new 20-team competition will take its place from next season on.

This will be the final season of the Heineken Cup.
This will be the final season of the Heineken Cup.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

A NEW EUROPEAN club rugby deal has been signed.

After months of speculation, in-fighting and disagreement, the European Rugby Champions Cup will be the flagship tournament of a new system that will feature three cross-border club competitions from the 2014/15 season onwards.

A new association entitled ‘European Professional Club Rugby’ will be responsible for organising and managing all three competitions, with the ERC – which currently runs the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup – being disbanded.

BT Sport and Sky Sports 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.

The pool matches are set to be shared equally between the broadcasters, while both will show two quarter-finals each, one semi-final each and the final will be broadcast by both live. The four-year agreement is subject to contract.

The European Rugby Challenge Cup will be the second tier tournament from here on, while the lowest rung on the European club ladder will be known as the Qualifying Competition.

Six teams from the Top 14, six from the Premiership and seven from the Pro12 [with at least one from each participating country] will qualify for the 20-team Rugby Champions Cup each season, with the 20th participant being decided by a play-off.

For next season that play-off will be between the teams who finish seventh in the Top 14 and Premiership, with that clash set to take place in May [either as a one-off game or as a home/away aggregate tie].

In subsequent seasons, the teams finishing seventh in the Top 14, seventh in the Premiership and eight and ninth in the Pro12 will be involved in that play-off system.

Of much importance is that fact that the distribution of funds over the “minimum eight-year accord” will be split evenly three ways between the Top 14 clubs, Premiership outfits and Pro12 sides, “with a guaranteed minimum distribution for the clubs from the Pro12 in years 1-5.”

The Heineken Trophy in Sky Sports Sky have agreed a deal with BT in principle. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The nine stakeholders to have put pen to paper on the new deal 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).

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The new accord also outlines that the second tier Rugby Challenge Cup will involve 20 teams, comprising 18 clubs from the Top 14, Premiership and Pro12 as well as two clubs from the qualifying competition organised with FIRA-AER.

Both the Rugby Champions Cup and Rugby Challenge Cup will take place over nine weekends, with five pools of four teams playing each other home and away. The five pool winners and the three best runners-up will then qualify for the quarter-finals.

The quarter-finals will be played at the home venues of the four best pool winners [ie. those who have accrued the most match points]. The pool phase will be played in three blocks of two weekends and will be completed by the end of January.

The final of both competitions will take place on the first weekend of May at the latest.

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Murray Kinsella

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