EDINBURGH RUGBY and Glasgow Warriors face losing their automatic qualification into the Heineken Cup – Europe’s elite and most lucrative tournament – after English and French clubs confirmed they intend to break away from the present structure and set up their own competition.
The Aviva Premiership clubs and their counterparts across the Channel have grown frustrated at the impasse in their negotiations with European Rugby Cup (ERC) over changes to the format of the elite competition.
The clubs – who served notice to leave the ERC competitions, which include the second-tier Amlin Challenge Cup, last year – say teams from other countries will be welcome to enter their 20-team event.
The Scottish, Irish and Italian clubs would qualify for the proposed new event if they finish in the top six of the RaboDirect PRO12 league. But, while Edinburgh made it to the Heineken Cup semi-finals in 2012, only Glasgow have managed a top-six league finish in the past three seasons.
Edinburgh have remained in the bottom-half of the table ever since they clinched a best-ever finish of second place back in 2009.
The Scottish Rugby Union president Ian McLauchlan and senior SRU executive Dominic Mackay were today in Dublin for a meeting of ERC representatives.
The driving factor behind the breakaway is the desire of the English and French clubs for a bigger slice of TV revenues.
They are also annoyed that they have to compete for qualification whereas the Scottish teams are ensured of Heineken Cup rugby regardless of league performance.
Mark McCafferty, chief executive of the English clubs’ representative body Premiership Rugby, said: “Our view is that the competition is not a truly elite one, as you don’t have the 24 best clubs in there.
“There are a whole series of issues that we have been through for several years with them that we feel need to be changed to make the competition stronger for everyone.”