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Extra place will tempt the Celts to sign up for Champions Cup

The Celtic Unions are being guaranteed one more place in the proposed Rugby Champions’ Cup than the English and French clubs.

The offer to increase qualification from the top six of the Pro 12 to the top seven has been made by the Anglo-French architects of the new tournament as an added incentive to join.

The new plan makes room for the seventh-placed RaboDirect team as the 19th qualifier alongside six from the Aviva Premiership and six from the Top 14. The final, 20th place will be a one-match play-off between the seventh placed teams in England and France.

“There’s no question that this makes the Champions’ Cup an even more attractive proposition,” a Pro 12 chief executive told The Rugby Paper. “The offer’s on the table but nothing’s been agreed as yet.”

To preserve the pan-European nature of the competition, the highest ranked Italian and Scottish team in the Pro 12 will be granted entry to the Champions’ Cup even if they finish outside the top seven.  In that event one or both of the teams finishing above them would be disqualified.

Mark DodsonThe significant change to the play-off structure has been made in response to the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian Unions refusing to give their teams the green light for any competition not approved by the game’s governing body, the IRB.

The four Welsh regions have already declared their unconditional support for the Champions’ Cup, even if that means defying their own Union.  Celtic champions Leinster signalled their readiness last month to consider joining the new venture and SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, left, has warned that no Europe ‘could well be the end of professional rugby in Scotland’.

The English and French are adamant that unless the Unions give them commercial control, there will be no Europe next season.

The Unions met last week to discuss the joint-PRL (Premier Rugby Ltd) and LNR (Ligue Nationale de Rugby) proposal over what remains the major stumbling block – passing control to the clubs.

With little room left for manoeuvre, the Unions have referred the crisis to the IRB and its 66-year-old chairman, former French Federation president Bernard Lapasset.

He has appealed to all parties for ‘cool heads’ and ‘time to reflect’.

The English and French will be tempted to give that short shrift, given that they waited almost 18 months for the Heineken Cup organisers, ERC Ltd., to agree to their demands for a standard qualifying method and equal distribution of revenue.

Lapasset said: “There have been somewhat hasty positions taken on the part of the British. I believe there is a need for them to work on the plans and so I am giving them the time to come up with something more constructive which will unite everyone and not be divisive. Rugby must be governed fairly and with respect for others.”

The English and French claim the Heineken Cup, as run by ERC Ltd., was anything but fair – hence their call for an equality which ERC has belatedly taken on board.

Under the current arrangement, the Pro 12 clubs take the lion’s share at 52 per cent, leaving the English and French with 24 per cent each. That means each English club is paid £800,000 for competing in Europe while the two Scottish teams receive more than £2m.

PETER JACKSON

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