CLUBS HAD TO TAKE A STAND
BLASÉ Heineken Cup bosses never took English and French clubs' European rugby concerns seriously, slams Gloucester CEO Stephen Vaughan.
Kingsholm chief Vaughan believes European Rugby Cup (ERC) trivialised English and French clubs' grievances – and the ultimate consequence will be the death of the Heineken Cup.
Vaughan believes Premiership Rugby are right to press ahead with plans for the Rugby Champions Cup.
English and French club authorities want to seize the power to organise their own European tournaments: if successful, ERC's very existence will be plunged into doubt.
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The Rugby Champions Cup has been designed to gazump the Heineken Cup, that looks set to end in its current guise next summer.
Vaughan thinks Celtic and Italian club bodies are now furiously deliberating their next moves – but expects considerable progress in the next two months.
The English and French have offered the Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Italians the opportunity to join their European revolution.
Premiership Rugby and French club body the Ligue Nationale de Rugby served notice on the existing European accord some 15 months ago.
The current European agreement expires next summer – and the English and French clubs are refusing any further discussion with ERC.
The Heineken Cup organisers have hired mediator Graeme Mew in a last-ditch effort to rescue their beleaguered competition.
But Premiership Rugby have refused to meet with Mew, condemning ERC's move as too little too late.
Gloucester boss Vaughan backed Premiership Rugby's position, calling on the Celtic and Italians clubs to get on board with the English and French.
Premier Rugby have signed a European TV rights agreement with BT Sport, which ERC contest.
Vaughan believes the BT money will help clubs across the continent balance books, while he also said the main aim of revamping the competition is to level the qualification process for each country.
Vaughan explained: "My stance is very clear. We are 12 businesses in our own right, the clubs in England, who have to run to their optimum, for supporters, staff, players and everyone else.
"So we have to ensure we have a product that is right and fair – and it's got to be based around a meritocracy.
"The conversations that have been going on for 14 months, we were just never taken seriously by ERC.
"We felt we were treated like a poor relation, whereas we bring so much to it, the English clubs, from both a playing and a financial side.
"I think the situation is now everyone knows clearly.
"There's a counter-stance as it were from ERC, and it will be very interesting now to see what the clubs within each union has to make of it.
"Personally I hope that the Celtic clubs can look at the benefits for them, because they stand to get more out of the competition than they ever have before.
"This can really help clubs going forward to be profitable, or at least to ensure that they've got better financial coverage than they have now."
Less taxing qualification routes for Pro12 Celtic and Italian clubs allows Welsh and Irish regions to rest top players in league action and keep them fresh for pivotal Heineken Cup contests.
Only the top-six Premiership and French Top 14 clubs qualify for the Heineken Cup.
English and French club bosses have vowed not to countenance the perceived imbalance any longer.
Gloucester will start their Heineken Cup quest by hosting Perpignan at Kingsholm on Saturday, October 12 (kick-off 6pm) – but Vaughan expects this to be the competition's final year.
He continued: "The uncomfortable factor in all of this is that it's pulling the power into the clubs, which is quite similar to football.
"And obviously the control has been elsewhere for a long time and people have been comfortable with the status quo.
"There are those who are quite happy with the whole relationship, but the clubs own the assets, we have the players, we train them, we prepare them, we make them ready for duty for club and country.
"And the way it's been working at the moment, the way English clubs have to qualify for the Heineken Cup versus teams from other nations, it doesn't make sense and it's not fair.
"I actually think for the unions as well the English and French clubs' proposal is actually better as well.
"So timescale-wise it will take a bit of time to bed in, and I think there will be conversations taking place among the clubs.
"Then there will be a clearer picture within the next couple of months."