South African sides at risk as plans for Club World Cup 'progressing very nicely'
Plans for a new Club World Cup tournament are “progressing very nicely”, but there remains doubts over how South Africa’s top sides fit into the global scheme of things.
According to European Professional Club Rugby [EPCR] chief executive Vincent Gaillard, plans to pit the world’s best clubs against each other in a quadrennial tournament are ongoing.
“The project is progressing really very nicely, even if the political environment is never simple,” Gaillard said, as per AFP.
“It is moving forward in consultation with all interested stakeholders, including the southern hemisphere countries and World Rugby.”
The concept was proposed by French Rugby Federation [FFR] president Bernard Laporte during his successful campaign to become World Rugby vice-president last year.
Speaking to Midi Olympique last April, Laporte said he wanted to see a six-week tournament held annually featuring the six top teams from Super Rugby, the best four from the Premiership, Top 14 and PRO14, and the champions of the Top League and Major League Rugby.
If a such a format is to be applied, a change in the makeup of the teams would be likely given the changes Super Rugby and the PRO14 have undergone in the past 12 months.
Super Rugby will be comprised solely of Trans-Tasman and Pasifika sides in a 12-team league next year, while the PRO14 is set to become the PRO16 following the admission of South Africa’s four former Super Rugby franchises into the European league.
However, Laporte’s proposal to stage the tournament every year at the expense of the European Champions Cup was met with a swift response from the EPCR.
The governing body of Europe’s premier club competition instead proposed the Club World Cup to be held once every four years, a move that would keep the Champions Cup, and the second-tier Challenge Cup, alive.
AFP reports those plans to make the Club World Cup a four-yearly tournament are being put into action, but in an eight-team format with four of the best from each hemisphere, rather than a 20-team global competition as proposed by Laporte.
“It’s advancing, still on the principle that the EPCR represents the interests of the northern hemisphere, based on a four-yearly format and with a date for the first tournament yet to be decided but not before 2024,” Gaillard said.
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It comes three months after a report that chief executives within Super Rugby were keen on the idea of a Club World Cup, as were Harlequins and Scarlets board member Sean Fitzpatrick, Panasonic Wild Knights coach Robbie Deans and Toshiba Brave Lupus coach Todd Blackadder.
Top League chairman Osamu Oita also threw his support behind the concept as he said he expected a Club World Cup to be staged “in the near future”.
“If the club world championship can be held that is a very good thing for us,” Ota told Stuff.
“If some of the Japanese clubs can make it that is a positive for us, so I’m expecting the club world championship will be held in the near future.
“But of course many discussions have to be conducted to find the best format for everyone. We need to think about the player welfare as well as the international calendar, which is very difficult.
“So, everyone needs to capture the big picture of what is going on on a global basis to sort out the right place and the right timing.”
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Gaillard, meanwhile, added that the EPCR has signed a new deal with national unions and federations guaranteeing the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup through until at least 2030.
Just how the South Africa’s four soon-to-be PRO16 franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers – fit into the continental equation remains unclear, though.
“There will be no South African clubs in the European Cup next season, that’s for sure,” Gaillard said.
“In the Challenge Cup, theoretically, it is possible. We are looking at the possibility, but it is quite unlikely. There are details to settle, especially at the PRO16 level.”
A report from Stuff earlier this year indicated chief executives from within Super Rugby were
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