RFU Announces European Rugby Tournament to Replace Heineken Cup

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Leinster's Irish Full Back Rob Kearney, left,  tries to stop Toulon's hooker Craig Burden  of South Africa , center, who  runs past Leinster's Irish Centre Brian O'Driscol, bottom,  during their Heineken European Cup quarter final rugby match, at the Mayol stadium, in Toulon, southern France, Sunday, April 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Claude Paris

In what was Rugby Union's worst kept secret, the Rugby Football Union announced on Thursday that a new European rugby tournament has been put in place to replace the Heineken Cup, starting in the 2014-15 season.

Sky Sports tweeted the news:

Details were scarce when the news first came out, but the BBC had learned the new cup would start as early as next season, as all the parties involved came to an agreement on Thursday.

The immediate reaction on Twitter was one of relief, both at the saga surrounding Europe's future premier Rugby Union tournament being over and the often maligned Heineken Cup being scrapped.

The South Wales Evening Post's Rob Lloyd was one of the first to react to the announcement:

This fan also didn't seem to mind:

As reported by The Scottish Daily Mail's Rob Robertson, the Scottish pro teams will be losing their automatic entries:

The search for a new tournament to replace the Heineken Cup had been going on for months, with the federations of every respective nation often clashing over minor details.

The RFU eventually published a statement on its website, detailing what the future of European rugby will look like.

A new governing body for European rugby will be brought to life, under the name "European Professional Club Rugby" (EPCR), which will be comprised of members of all qualifying Unions and leagues to form an eventual committee of nine.

Per the RFU:

A new deal on European club rugby has been signed. All nine stakeholders* have underlined their commitment to an invigorated competition that will start in the 2014/5 season and meets the requirements of all the parties involved.

It is a truly meritocratic tournament, with appropriate division of finances, underpinned by a long-term agreement and strong governance.

This committee will govern three new tournaments in total, namely the European Rugby Champions Cup, the European Rugby Challenge Cup and the Qualifying Competition.

The Champions Cup will be the primary competition, effectively replacing the Heineken Cup as the highest honour in European club rugby. A total of 20 clubs will participate every year, with playoffs deciding the lowest seeds.

The Challenge Cup will be a competition for clubs just below that level, with the winner granted access to next season's Champions Cup playoffs. The Qualifying Competition finally will give two clubs from the smaller nations a chance to compete in the Challenge Cup, something that will greatly help the development of the sport in those nations.

RFU Chairman Bill Beaumont is very excited about the future of this new organisation, per the official statement:

The benefits will be seen far and wide, from the clubs to the supporters, sponsors and everyone who has followed the fabulous mix of high class rugby and good natured rivalry – all played out in many spectacular towns and cities in Europe.

The RFU, and in particular Ian Ritchie, has invested significant time over the last few months in helping to find a solution to a problem that at one stage looked difficult to solve. We are very pleased that the challenges off the pitch are concluded so we can enjoy the joys of the game on it, creating more unforgettable memories for players and fans alike.

Fans will indeed be very happy to learn this issue has now finally been resolved, and while some will no doubt be sad to see the iconic Heineken Cup go, the new format consisting of two major tournaments and qualifiers for the smaller nations to gain valuable experience at that level will help the sport moving forward.   

This year's Heineken Cup is in the semi-final stage, and the four remaining teams will now be battling not just for the trophy, but also for the everlasting honour of being the last club ever to win the Heineken Cup.