Heineken Cup
Craig sounds stark warning to PRO12 sides
ESPN Staff
September 25, 2013
Bath chairman Bruce Craig is adamant the Premiership sides will not return to the Heineken Cup next term © Getty Images

Bath chairman Bruce Craig has said the Heineken Cup is "finished" and the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs will face "financial oblivion" if they do not join the newly formed Rugby Champions Cup.

Craig currently holds the role of Premiership Rugby's deputy chairman and the organisation has been at the forefront of pushing for change in the structure of Europe's premier tournament. PRL and its French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby have put in place a structure for a new European competition next season which will be club-run instead of being under European Rugby Cup Ltd's (ERC) control.

ERC currently preside over the Heineken Cup and both PRL and LNR hold misgivings over the qualification process for the tournament and the distribution of both revenue and votes. After months of negotiations, PRL and LNR have decided to form a new breakaway competition and have no intention of seeking compromise with ERC.

The PRO12 clubs are invited to join the new tournament but as yet, none have committed to the breakaway competition. The tournament needs ratification from the various Unions and both the International Rugby Board and French Rugby Federation (FFR) seem opposed to the Champions Cup.

The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn't, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries

However, Craig insists the new competition is in the PRO12's interests and if they do not join the Champions Cup then they will be hamstrung by the loss of revenue.

"If the competition is not approved then that would have absolutely catastrophic implications for Celtic rugby," Craig told BBC Sport. "Celtic teams would be without significant revenues. The Heineken Cup is finished, it's over. The Rugby Champions Cup is a way to save European rugby."

And Craig suggests the organisers of the Champions Cup will pursue legal action if the new tournament is blocked by the powers that be. He added: "If all 38 [European] clubs were actually given the opportunity to come into the Rugby Champions Cup, I believe all 38 would probably agree. It's basically the Celtic Unions that would stop them from participating.

"Everyone would prefer that we didn't go down the legal route. We all want a competition that is a fabulous European competition. The reality though is that if there was to be a blockage there are obvious questions around restraint of trade. This new Champions Cup would generate in the region of 60 to 70 million Euros minimum, which would actually cut out a big percentage of the English and the French clubs' losses."

According to reports from the BBC, English clubs currently receive in the region of £800k for participating in the Heineken Cup while some Celtic sides collect closer to £3m from ERC. Craig and PRL are showing no signs of bowing to ERC's wishes for compromise and seem steadfast in their desire to push ahead with the Champions Cup.

"At the moment, for the 2014-15 season there is no European rugby," Craig said. "This competition is one in which all the clubs are invited to play and there will be an equal distribution of money on a per team basis.

"The reality of it is that if the Rugby Champions Cup doesn't happen, then the Celts will not be playing in a competition and they won't have those distributions from that competition. People say the English and French clubs are greedy. The fact is we are losing money.

"In terms of sustainability and the future of the game, this is an opportunity for us to increase revenues into the English and French club game which gives it more viability. The unions should be approving that so there is continuity in English, French and Celtic rugby, because if there isn't, there would be financial oblivion for the Celtic countries."

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