Amlin Challenge Cup
The future of the European Cup has been plunged into fresh doubt after officials refused to release payments owed to competing clubs.
Following a board meeting of European Rugby Cup at its Dublin headquarters on Wednesday, tournament chiefs said they would reconvene on February 19.
ERC is facing the threat of extinction, with moves afoot to have the continent’s top club rugby union events run by another organisation next season.
The European Cup (wit it’s two legs of Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup) set a new pool stage attendance record as quarterfinal qualification went down to the wire once again at the weekend.
As Europe’s premier club tournament was delivering another rollercoaster Round Six full of intrigue, spectators were voting with their feet to set a new European Cup pool stage attendance record.
Round 6 of the European Cup, which includes the Heineken Cup (Premier Competition) and Amlin Challenge Cup (secondary Qualification Competition) happened this past weekend and there was high drama and lots of action!
Sunday evening the full puzzle of who plays where in the Play-Off’s of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge cup was revealed.
In the Heineken Cup, Ulster will host Saracens, ASM Clermont Auvergne will host Leicester Tigers, whilst the defending champions Toulon will host Leinster and Munster will host Toulouse at Thomond Park. The Quarter-finals will take place on the weekend of 4 to 6 April.
In the Amlin Challenge Cup Northampton Saints, Harlequins and Gloucester have booked their spots in the Quarter-finals along with the amlin Challenge Cup Pool winners Bath, London Wasps, Stade Francais, Sale Sharks and Brive.
Bath will host Brive, London Wasps will host Gloucester, Stade Francais host Harlequins and Sale Sharks will host Northampton Saints.
The race to these Cup winners will be interrupted by the Six Nations tournament, which takes place from 1 February 2014.
Eighteen European Cup clubs are still in contention for silverware, following a pulsating weekend of Round Five action.
In the Heineken Cup race, reigning champions, Toulon, as well as ASM Clermont Auvergne and Munster emerged as winners of Pool 2, Pool 4 and Pool 6 respectively to seal their places in the last eight of the Heineken Cup – while Ulster, Leicester Tigers and Toulouse are also guaranteed coveted spots in the quarterfinals.
Joe van Niekerk, Juan Smith, Bakkies Botha and Craig Burden were part of a dominant Toulon pack that created three penalty tries in the European champions’ win over Cardiff Blues.
Seven South African players were involved in Sunday’s match between Toulouse and Saracens, with Jano Vermaak, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Schalk Ferreira starting for the victorious French side who had Gurthrö Steenkamp on the bench. Neil de Kock, Alistair Hargreaves, Schalk Brits and Ernst Joubert were all on the losing side for the visitors.
Qualification for the knockout stage of Europe’s premier club tournament is on the line once again as the tension-packed Rounds Five and Six of the European Cup assume centre stage in the coming fortnight.
Once the drama and number-crunching conclude, six pool winners and the two best pool runners-up will have booked prized spots in the European Cup quarterfinals, while the three next best pool runners-up will extend their season in Europe by qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Challenge Cup.
As summer settles warmly down south and cricket provides most interest, wet and wind do their best to disrupt the North as rugby seeks to fight the wild weather off so that the European competitions can be played this week and next.
These are the last two pool rounds in the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup before the knock-out rounds. There is a lot at stake for some clubs.
Bath director of rugby Gary Gold has left the Premiership club. The 46-year-old South African took over at the Rec in May 2012, replacing Sir Ian McGeechan.
The prospect of two rival European club tournaments next season grew on Thursday when the four RaboDirect unions and France announced the Heineken Cup would continue and the English and French clubs insisted their Rugby Champions Cup would go ahead regardless.
In another significant development regarding the ongoing impasses over the future of European club rugby, representatives from the French, Irish, Welsh, Scottish and Italian unions will meet in Dublin on Thursday in an attempt to break the current logjam, and to that end will begin drawing up plans for a Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup without the English clubs.
European rugby’s new club competition is a “train that has left the station” but there is still just time to pick up the Heineken Cup refuseniks, the head of the English Premiership said on Wednesday.
Although there are still a number of issues to be finalised, notably about the governance, the English and French leagues and the Welsh regions are all committed to the new two-tier “Rugby Champions Cup” which will swing into action next season.
The English, French, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Italian governing bodies have agreed to change the structure of European club rugby. After meetings in Dublin, they agreed in principle on the formation of two tweaked competitions of 20 teams each as well as a change in revenue distribution.
In a media release,the RRW (Regional Rugby Wales), the 4 Welsh Regions have put their weight behind the break away by the Anglo-French Clubs from the current format of the ERC (European Rugby Cahampionship). The ERC currently run the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup tournaments.
This now adds added impetus to the newly proposed Rugby Champions Cup competition, initiated by English and French Clubs after unhappiness with the format for qualification of the ERC competitions and the distribution of income in the competitions. The Celtic League, Irish, Scotish and Welsh clubs qualify easier than the English and French Clubs at present.
London Irish scored nine tries as they romped to a 60-11 victory over Cavalieri in the Amlin Challenge Cup at the Madejski Stadium.
Italy stands ready to stage a major European club rugby final for the first time with the 20th Heineken Cup decider scheduled to be played at Milan’s world-famous Stadio Giuseppe Meazza San Siro in 2015.
Representatives and stakeholders from the European Rugby Cup met in London on Wednesday in order to agree on the way forward for the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup but again failed to find a solution.
English and French clubs are not happy with the current format as their opposition teams do not have to qualify for the Heineken Cup in the same way and have automatic qualification regardless of their level of skill.
Gloucester looseforward Andy Hazell was suspended for 14 weeks as sanction following a Disciplinary Hearing in Dublin after being Red Carded and Cited in the Amlin Challenge Cup Pool 1, Round 1 match against Mont-de-Marsan at Stade Guy Boniface on Thursday 11 October.
In one of the more brutal and serious incidents in recent years, Andy Hazell was given a Red Card for an incident in the 55th minute of the match for striking (or rather for bating up) Mont-de-Marsan replacement, Sebastien Ormaechea.
This is the third article in our series looking at players from the northern hemisphere who may be lesser known on the international stage. Previously we looked at two wingers, Harry Robinson and Tim Visser, who at that time had yet to start an official test for their country.
We now feature a forward, England flanker Tom Johnson. The other difference is that by now Johnson has actually played two tests for England, against South Africa.
Jonny Wilkinson will lead Toulon in their hunt for a first trophy in 20 years when they face French rivals Biarritz in the Amlin Challenge Cup final at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday.
The Final of the Amlin Challenge Cup will be contested between French teams Biarritz Olympique and Toulon. The game will take place at the Twickenham Stoop on Friday night, kick off 21.00 SA time.