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Plans revealed for Champions Cup
Anglo-French efforts to form a European breakaway competition have stepped up with the confirmation that a new tournament open to Celtic and Italian teams will be established in time for next season.
Premiership Rugby, in conjunction with its French equivalent Ligue Nationale de Rugby, has announced that the tournament will be called the Rugby Champions Cup.
"The competition will be based on the principles of qualification on merit, a strong competition format, equality between the leagues, higher commercial values for the teams and expansion into new European markets," read a statement released by Premiership Rugby.
The announcement underlines Anglo-French determination to press ahead with their own version of the Heineken Cup, which appears to be in its death throes given the determination to force change.
It also confirms their unwillingness to work under European Rugby Cup, the organisation that runs the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups and that appointed an independent mediator on Friday in an attempt to thrash out a new tournament agreement.
ERC has scheduled the next round of negotiations for October 23, which has further antagonised English and French clubs who had initially demanded urgency in finding a resolution before losing patience and declaring they would forge their own path.
Structural, qualification and financial changes are being sought by the Premiership and Top 14 teams, whose bargaining position is strengthened by a lucrative television rights deal with BT Sport, although the detail of that remains unclear.
If and when ERC - which has agreed a new broadcasting deal with Sky - has been dealt with, union and International Rugby Board approval will be required before the Rugby Champions Cup can begin.
"The Top 14 and Premiership Rugby clubs have already confirmed their participation in the new competition and a joint working group has been created to prepare all necessary elements in good time for the 2014-15 season," Premiership Rugby's statement continued.
"Further details concerning the competition format, marketing and financial aspects of the Rugby Champions Cup will be communicated in October."
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty confirmed that approaches have been received from RaboDirect PRO12 teams expressing interest in the Rugby Champions Cup - which he "expects" to be more than an Anglo-French competition.
"Before we can release more details we need to know over the next few weeks which other teams will be joining the competition," McCafferty said.
"We expect those discussions to continue over the next few weeks. Once we know the final, or close to final, numbers then we settle on the competition formats.
"Various people have approached us about the possibility of joining and we've indicated to them that we'll keep their names confidential.
"We've heard that other people want to be involved in European competitions, that's why we've left the door open and expect it to be more than an Anglo-French competition.
"Once people saw on September 10 that we would seek an alternative, interest has been expressed in at least knowing exactly what will be involved - the format, commercial and financial details as well."
McCafferty is confident of securing Rugby Football Union backing and hinted that Premiership Rugby would pursue the matter legally if its approval was not forthcoming.
"We're asking for the RFU's support against the background that there will be no ERC competition in which we're taking part at the end of the season. We need to put in place new competitions," McCafferty said.
"We ultimately expect to have RFU support and it's in the interests of English rugby to have the teams playing in a good competition at the end of the season.
"If that scenario occurs where the RFU oppose what we're doing, we'd have to look at the reasons for opposing it.
"You can't just from a legal point of view say 'we don't want it so we're not going to approve it', especially when there's a conflict of interests.
"We'll try to overcome the issues and then take it from there. We're asking for support. We'd expect that support."
McCafferty revealed the proposed Rugby Champions Cup would be overseen by an "organising body of some sort - it doesn't need to be as big, unwieldy or institutionalised as ERC".
He denied ERC claims that the detail of its television deal with BT Sport is shrouded in mystery - "the RFU know what's in it" - and said that the French clubs will only play in a competition involving their English counterparts.