Trouble is brewing in Europe as rugby’s ruling powers clash heads over the future of the cross-border club competition.
Premiership Rugby, which runs the Aviva Premiership, and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), which runs the French Top 14, have confirmed that clubs from their respective leagues will not be taking part in European Rugby Cup Ltd’s Heineken Cup and second tier Amlin Challenge Cup next year.
Instead teams from the two strongest domestic leagues in Europe, which will almost certainly include Leicester Tigers, will play in a new competition, the Rugby Champions Cup, in the 2014/15 Season.
The Rugby Champions Cup will be open to teams from the three premier leagues in Europe. But the RaboDirect Pro12, which covers teams from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, has yet to commit to the plans.
However individual teams, including 2009, 2011 and 2012 Heineken Cup champions Leinster, have posted their interest in joining a new break-away league.
The move has also been backed by Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Tom who says the new competition will be more financially rewarding and a fairer competition.
The basis for the breakaway comes from the lack of competition in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.
The Pro12 does not have a relegation system and is not dependent on league position because both Scottish and Italian clubs are guaranteed spots in European competition no matter where they come in the league. Only the top six teams in both the French and English leagues get a Heineken Cup spot by right.
As a result club in the Pro12 can rest their best players ahead of key European clashes whereas French and English clubs have to play their strongest sides to secure their league positions.
It seems the relationship between the Anglo-French alliance and ERC is beyond repair and this year’s Heineken Cup will be the last.
Tigers have been drawn against Italian opposition in recent seasons and will face Benetton Treviso again this year.
While the Italian clubs are improving each season they undoubtedly provide an easier test than most other European sides and are less of a draw to the paying public.
A European competition between the best sides is desirable. But the development of club rugby in Italy, Scotland and even Wales must be protected.
In other news
Leicester crossed the try line on five occasions to secure a bonus-point win over visiting Newcastle.
Tigers finished 31-6 victors over the Falcons on Saturday thanks to tries from forwards Jordan Crane and Graham Kitchener, American full-back Blaine Scully on his Tigers debut and second half scores for Dan Bowden and Thomas Waldrom.
Leicester welcomed back England trio Ben Youngs, Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi from injury and the latter two took the game by storm.
At times Tuilagi was simply unstoppable on Saturday. The Samoan-born centre brushed off five defenders before setting up Kitchener for the try and had a hand in Scully’s score as well.
His powerful outing came as a welcome relief to the negative headlines surrounding the centre following his decision to “bunny ears” the Prime Minister David Cameron during the British and Irish Lions reception at Downing Street.