Newcastle Falcons CEO says no turning back in Euro row

Newcastle Falcons chief executive Paul Varley is confident plans to abandon the Heineken Cup in favour of a new competition will stand up to legal scrutiny

Paul Varley, Newcastle Falcons' executive director
Paul Varley, Newcastle Falcons' executive director

Newcastle Falcons chief executive Paul Varley is confident plans to abandon the Heineken Cup in favour of a new competition will stand up to legal scrutiny.

English Premiership and French Top 14 clubs have announced the creation of the new Rugby Champions Cup and, despite teams from Wales, Italy, Scotland and Ireland being invited to join the new-look tournament, their national federations reiterated they would not sanction the move without International Rugby Board approval.

Varley remains adamant the plans will still go through, stating: “We, being Premiership Rugby, served notice last June we would not be continuing in the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, in line with the contract.

“As far as we are concerned that is no more and next year we are going to be playing in the Rugby Champions Cup.

“I think that is tremendously exciting, and the format makes it more equitable both in terms of the qualification criteria and the financial distribution.

“At the moment it is only an Anglo-French competition, but we are hoping the other countries from the Rabodirect Pro12 will come on board.

“We will have to wait and see whether or not they choose to do that, but for the Premiership clubs it is an exciting time.”

With national unions beginning to muddy the legal waters over the new competition, Varley said: “The Competition Commission and Competition Act are quite clear and if that is where we have to go then that is where we will go.

“We hope it doesn’t get to that point and the unions back us, but we do understand and sympathise with the political difficulties for them in doing that.

“We have gone through the right channels and the Heineken Cup is not going to happen next season in its current format.

“We are pushing on with the Rugby Champions Cup and all 12 Premiership clubs are absolutely aligned on it.

“We have said our piece with the RFU and we hope they get behind us.

“I am confident they will, because it is the right thing to do for club rugby in Europe. We have to do what is right for the clubs, because that is the way we are wired and that is what is important to us.”

Explaining the intended make-up of the Rugby Champions Cup, he added: “It would be a two-tier competition, with 20 clubs in each.

“Broadly speaking, in the top tier you would have, if it works the way we hope with the Rabodirect Pro12 teams, the top six from England, France and the Pro12 plus the two cup winners from the previous year.”

With many fans mourning the apparent loss of a Heineken Cup tournament loved across the continent for its intensity and prestige, Varley insisted: “The Heineken Cup was just unsustainable in terms of the financial returns and the qualification criteria.

“You only have to look at some of the pool draws, derived from the seeding system. Some of them are hugely competitive with four teams in the same group being among the favourites to win the whole tournament and then you look at some groups consisting of weaker teams.

“That whole system was poorly constructed and we are where we are.”

The Falcons, meanwhile, are next in Premiership action when Gloucester visit Kingston Park on Sunday.

The West Country outfit have not won in the North East since 2007 but could include ex-Newcastle captain James Hudson in their squad, the lock-forward having missed their opening three games through injury.

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