Heineken Champions Cup organisers have countered radical proposals by Bernard Laporte for an annual Club World Cup that would be run at the expense of the European knockout competition.
Laporte, a three-time European Cup winner as Toulon’s head coach from 2013-15 and French Rugby Federation president, wants the Champions Cup replaced with a 20-team tournament split into four pools involving the top four teams from each of the Guinness PRO14, English Premiership and French Top14 alongside six Super Rugby participants and the champions from Japan and the United States to take place over a condensed period each summer except for World Cup years.
The plan, revealed in French newspaper Midi Olympique, are part of the former France head coach’s manifesto in his bid to become World Rugby vice-chairman as a running mate with chairman Bill Beaumont in the governing body’s elections next month.
With rugby currently shut down across the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic and players, clubs and unions all suffering the financial consequences, Laporte told Midi Olympique: “This crisis must push us to be innovative.
“Faced with today’s threats, we must move the lines, multiply aid and imagine what will be the rugby of tomorrow.
"This is why, for several weeks, I have been working with Bill Beaumont on the restructuring of the international calendar in order to standardise the windows reserved for national teams. And, in fact, create a new window dedicated to clubs, which would allow the creation of a new international competition: the Club World Cup.
Champions Cup organisers European Professional Club Rugby, of which the Irish Rugby Football Union is a board member, last night reacted to Laporte’s proposal by revealing it was already in discussions with its shareholders about a global club tournament to complement the existing European competitions.
“EPCR has noted today’s media reports regarding a proposal for an annual Club World Cup,” it said in a statement.
“Discussions have already taken place on an official level between EPCR and its shareholders regarding a global club tournament which could complement the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup and which could take place once every four years.
“EPCR does not believe it appropriate to highlight such discussions while the public health crisis due to Covid-19 continues, and currently, the organisation’s focus is on attempting to reschedule the knockout stages of the 2019/20 tournaments subject to government and local authority directives."
An earlier statement by Bath Rugby owner Bruce Craig now appears to be in line with EPCR thinking. Premiership Rugby Limited, the English club-owned entity that operates the national top-flight league there, is also a shareholder alongside French Top14 organisers Ligue National Rugby and Craig said any global club tournament should not replace European club competition and would have to be run by the clubs themselves rather than World Rugby.
“Whatever happens in the coming months, club rugby must remain managed by the clubs, it is non-negotiable,” Craig told the Guardian.
“This project is a club competition, not an international tournament and must therefore be piloted by the clubs; it should not be placed under the aegis of World Rugby.
“We are talking about a Club World Cup project that would have linked the best entities on the planet every four years.