Four years into his role as EPCR chairman, Simon Halliday has a stark message for other rugby administrators – stop holding the sport back.
As a still-youthful business, professional rugby continues to have a myriad of teething issues about how best to run the game.
Look at how divisive World Rugby’s failed attempt this year to set-up the Nations Championship proved to be – the Six Nations countries couldn’t reach an agreement with their southern hemisphere counterparts and a project that claimed to potentially be worth billions was tossed on the scrapheap.
What exasperates Halliday most is the lack of dialogue his organisation has been involved in. When it comes to financial clout, the clubs in Europe – especially those in England and France – are massively influential. Yet their opinion has apparently never been canvassed when it comes to the running of the global game.
It’s a situation the EPCR boss believes must come to an end, otherwise self-interest will prevent professional rugby from fully fulfilling its business potential and best looking after its most prized assets, the players.
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“There is a lot of things that still need to improve and if I was to make a plea, the game has to converge in its administration and its big issues,” he told RugbyPass. “How we deal with player safety, it’s not common what we do for that. How we deal with match officials and players welfare, part of the salary cap discussion is around looking after players when they are not playing any more.
“That is a big issue for the game because we can’t expect Johnny Sexton just give his life and soul for Leinster and Ireland and then when he stops playing, what does he do? These are big things and as an ex-player, I understand the dynamic there of how we manage players through the season. Everyone just can’t take their bit.
“We see Japan might going to the Six Nations. Well, where are the extra international weekends coming for that then? People need to have to think about the whole calendar, the whole business of rugby on and off the field, and not enough people do it together. There are too many parallel lines. We have got to get closer,” he said, demanding World Rugby show better leadership from the top.
Nations Championship idea is back on… but in a different guise following World Rugby's failure earlier this year to get its project over the line
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 7, 2019
“World Rugby should be that (decision-making) aggregator but World Rugby won’t even allow the clubs to get around the table. Interestingly the most integrated board that exists – and we have our challenges – is EPCR because you have got the six heads of the nations, the six unions, and you have got the three senior leagues in Europe around one table. So if you actually want to address northern hemisphere rugby, there is only one place you can go.
“I just think we need to be very grown up about what the right thing to do is rather than sit within processes and go look ‘that is not allowed because of the regulation’. But why was the regulation put in? To make us better at what we are doing, not to stop good things happening.
“If they had come and sat around our table they would have got a current view from everybody (on the Nations Championship), but to exclude the two main leagues in Europe, the LNR’s Top 14 and the PRL’s Premiership, you can’t tell me that is right. They don’t have a say in anything that World Rugby do.
“They need to change the constituents of that to give them a voice so that they get a collective view, not just the view of their executive or the view of their union chiefs because that doesn’t get deals done as they found out.”
One of the hottest topics surrounding the sport in Europe is the presence of CVC Capital Partners, the private equity firm who bought into Premiership Rugby last season. They are said to have a buy-in deal imminent with Six Nations, while there have also been discussions with the PRO14.
Does the potential exist for the sale of an EPCR stake to CVC? “It has come up in conversation quite a few times because everyone can see that they [CVC] have arrived and they can see it formally in one place (England) and in talks with the majority of our stakeholders,” said Halliday.
It could be getting worse for Saracens https://t.co/88qO2w2zC0
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2019
“It hasn’t progressed beyond the acknowledgement of it because they are private discussions and I think the way we run our tournament, it doesn’t change what we need to get done.
“The world of rugby is changing but that is not just us, it’s World Rugby, it’s Japan, it’s the financing of the game generally. It is something that is a real topic and we are just part of that discussion,” he said before downplaying suggestions that Saracens’ recent Champions Cup triumphs have been sullied by their breaches of the Premiership salary cap.
“It’s a non-issue for me. We are in the first stages of hearing about it or reading about it. I don’t get a briefing from the regulatory panels of the Premiership. I don’t think there is an application. The only application to Europe is the extent to which they can qualify for the competition against whatever their own league tells them.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) November 6, 2019
“I put that (salary cap) under the heading that we are their stakeholders, they own us, we are not an independent body that looks down on these things and says that is not good enough. So we have let them get on with it.
“It is an issue across all the territories because that is rugby. I remember in my first final (the 2016 Challenge Cup), the number of South African players in the Montpellier team caused a lot of comment from the Harlequins.
“I said: ‘Every league, every province or union supplies its group of players and we take that in good faith because we have got no option and why would we challenge it?’ We have a participation agreement to be bound by the rules of our tournament.
“That doesn’t speak to things like you have to adhere to a salary cap, there is no reference to it. But it has been a huge thing for rugby. I don’t think anyone is going to understate that and the timing of it has been terrible, but there is no good timing for that sort of thing.”
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