Walkinshaw: Qualification process is 'embarrassing'
September 18, 2013
Gloucester chairman Ryan Walkinshaw has thrown his weight behind the new European competition © Martin Bennett/ Gloucester Rugby
Gloucester chairman Ryan Walkinshaw is adamant plans for the breakaway European competition will become a reality and the new cup "will have no ERC involvement".
European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC) is still hopeful compromise can be found over the future of the Heineken Cup despite Premiership Rugby (PRL) and Ligue Nationale de Rugby's (LNR) statement last week that they see the time for negotiation to be over. On Tuesday, ERC president Jean-Pierre Lux accused PRL of using "guerrilla" tactics in a bid to force change in the Heineken Cup.
This was swiftly followed by a statement calling for a return to behind-closed-doors negotiations including stakeholders from all the six Unions involved in the Heineken Cup. The invitation offered to the representatives to attend a meeting in Dublin on October 23 was met by bemusement in some quarters of the Premiership and went against Mark McCafferty's quotes at the weekend that they see their future lying away from the ERC.
This is a view Walkinshaw subscribes to and he is fully behind the new club-run tournament. Walkinshaw told ESPN: "One of the big issues in all of this is tactically the ERC has tried to play a slow-ball campaign with us to try and put pressure on us going into the new season with the hope we will back down on our wishes.
"Unfortunately, it's backfired for them as I think they never believed we had a Plan B and had the structure to put into place what we have done. Obviously we have and we will go forward with unanimous votes from the English and French clubs that we are going to do this new competition which will have no ERC involvement."
PRL and LNR both harbour misgivings over the qualification process for the Heineken Cup and the distribution of revenue and votes. They deem all three aspects to be weighted in favour of the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs. This is something Walkinshaw subscribes to and claims the current Heineken Cup is not "truly elite".
"We want a competition which is stronger and is more ambitious for European club rugby," Walkinshaw added. "We want it to be based on meritocracy, quality and the commercial value of that tournament. At the moment, the Pools are skewed, the television audiences are flat and the competition is underperforming.
"It's not truly elite as you have clubs coming in having been formed that year who get automatic qualification, like Zebre, and others who have invested huge sums of money and add huge value to the competition being ignored through the qualification process which is not meritocratic. It's just embarrassing. It puts the competition into a frame which is not truly the elite competition it is meant to be.
"We have spent 15 months banging against a brick wall and if people aren't listening you sometimes just have to turn around and walk the other way. We've done that and now they are coming back saying 'you can't do that' but we can and we will."
One potential stumbling block for the breakaway tournament is the need for ratification from various governing bodies - the Rugby Football Union, Fédération Française de Rugby and International Rugby Board will all need to give their approval. Walkinshaw is hopeful they will see the benefits in the new tournament.
"We do need to have approval from the Unions but why would they not support their clubs. It's in their interests to do so. Most of the teams who have entered the Heineken Cup are privately owned clubs with private shareholders who have invested huge sums of money into the competition. It almost comes across as crazy that the Unions would not want to support the tournament that is truly elite.
"I'll ask this to anyone; does anyone really think in a club competition that inter-Union politics should take precedent over the betterment of the game? I personally don't think so. I hope this situation will get resolved and the Unions will support the clubs doing so."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.