Representatives of all 12 Premiership clubs met in London following last week’s dramatic decision by France’s Top 14 sides to pull out of the proposed Anglo-French breakaway Rugby Champions Cup following pressure from the French Rugby Federation (FFR).
“The English clubs have unanimously re-confirmed their position,” said a statement issued by Premiership Rugby (PRL), the umbrella group for England’s leading teams, following Thursday’s meeting.
“Having served notice in June 2012, they will not participate in any competitions run by ERC from (the) 2014/15 season.”
PRL said they were “pursuing other options” not involving ERC, who also run the second-tier European Challenge Cup.
“ERC does not structurally recognise the role of the leagues and clubs in driving the success of club competitions, under the overall governance of (national) Unions,” the PRL statement added.
“The ERC voting structure is controlled by Unions even though the majority of commercial value is created by the independent clubs which represent 75 percent of the participants.
“Proposals put forward to address a new structure within a Rugby Champions Cup were agreed by a majority of the unions in October, alongside meritocratic competition formats and equitable financial distributions.
“However, these have not been accepted by all.
“The English clubs have worked exhaustively over the last 18 months to propose solutions to the issues with the current European competitions and to provide a sustainable platform to grow the game in the various countries.
“The English clubs are now pursuing other options.”
Just what those other options might be are still a matter for debate.
Welsh clubs were supportive of the breakaway plan but they too have come under pressure from their national union.
Last week it appeared the Ligue National de Rugby, which represents France’s Top 14 clubs, were trying to retain some leverage over ERC when LNR president Paul Goze said: “French clubs can get involved in competitions run by the ERC (in 2014-15) on condition that all the deals are signed and that the competition will be staged with clubs from England”.
There have been reports in the British press suggesting PRL have put out feelers to South African provinces about a new competition.
An expanded Premiership that includes Welsh or second-tier English Championship teams is another possibility.
The current dispute has also been complicated by a row over broadcast rights. PRL have signed a television deal with BT Vision worth £152 million (178 million euros, $246 million), with £52 million earmarked for European competitions.
ERC insist they will stand by current broadcast partners Sky, with a contract agreed until 2018, but PRL say their deal is better for their members.
“The (English) clubs are financially in a better position next season than they are for the 2013-14 season because of our domestic TV deal and other uplifts in revenue we have in place,” said PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty following Thursday’s meeting.
“The clubs don’t have to focus on short-term solutions, they want a solution for the longer term.”
If there is no new tournament for PRL clubs to play in next season, it may mean home players are fresher and less exposed to the risk of injury ahead of the 2015 World Cup in England.
English clubs last boycotted European competition in the 1998/99 season in a dispute about how the tournament was then run, before returning to the fold the next year.
English and French clubs have long complained that Celtic League sides have an unfair advantage in European competition as most of them are guaranteed entry, whereas Premiership and Top 14 teams have to fight hard just to qualify.