French proposal for a club rugby World Cup would shake up the game

French proposal for a club rugby World Cup would shake up the game
Andrew Conway of Munster goes over to score his side's second try despite the efforts of Brice Dulin of Racing 92 at Thomond Park. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

TRUST the French to lob a hand grenade into global rugby during this time of great fear and uncertainty.

And it’s easily known there’s an important election looming next month when the vice-chairman position at the powerful World Rugby body is up for grabs.

Throwing his hat into the ring for election is Bernard Laporte, the current president of the French Federation.

And the former national coach, who also masterminded Toulon to three Heineken Cups, is calling for a radical overhaul of the club game.

Laporte wants to get rid of Europe’s premier cup competition and replace it with a World Cup-style club event.

Why? Money, of course.

In a French newspaper interview during the week, Laporte outlined the thinking behind his curve-ball approach.

“My goal is to find the income that will allow unions to finance both the professional and amateur world.

“This crisis must push us to be innovative. Let’s make this new competition. I am sure the public and television will follow. The European competition is magnificent and I know what it can represent, but it does not generate enough income,” he said.

Laporte wants a 20-team competition in a World Cup-style tournament in pools before a knock-out phase, culminating in a final.

His plan includes four teams each from the Pro 14, England and France, six from Super Rugby in the southern hemisphere as well as the champions of the US and Japan.

Racing's Donnacha Ryan with Mike Prendergast and Simon Zebo earlier this season. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Racing's Donnacha Ryan with Mike Prendergast and Simon Zebo earlier this season. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

As an exercise we flicked through the unfinished seasons of the various competitions to come up with 20 teams.

In the PRO 14, Leinster and Ulster would emerge from one pool and Glasgow and Munster from the other.

Super Rugby has five teams each in three conferences, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.

The current overall standings show the leading six are Sharks, Brumbies, Crusaders, Blues, Chiefs with Hurricanes, Stormers and Jaguares from Argentina tied for sixth.

The four English would be Exeter, Sale, Bristol and Northampton while the French would have Bordeaux Begles, Lyon, Racing 92 and Toulon.

Laporte’s thinking is that it would take six weeks to complete and would be the centre-piece of the rugby calendar every year.

Responding, the EPCR, the Champions’ Cup organisers, said talks were underway regarding the new format, but it was focussed on rescheduling the knock-out stages of the season.

“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 take place once every four years,” the statement added.

In his interview, Laporte said his ideas were only a proposal.

“But, I am sure of one thing, we must create this competition and very quickly. It could be a breath of fresh air for the whole of world rugby,” he commented.

Another matter, which may not be topical right now, but could occupy the minds of the financial gurus at the various unions, is the lucrative November internationals.

Ireland are scheduled to play Australia, South Africa and Japan, at the Aviva Stadium in games worth over €15m to the union’s coffers.

But, they could be in doubt because southern hemisphere countries may not be able to travel, depending on their rate of progress in getting rid of the coronavirus.

The All Blacks, South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Fiji, Japan and Tonga are scheduled to play in Europe that month.

In their place could be a quickly arranged series of games between the six nations, provided last season’s tournament is wrapped up before then.

Clearly, rugby chiefs need to start generating badly needed income and quickly.

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