The Daily Telegraph

Club World Cup takes step forward after URC support

- By Gavin Mairs Chief Rugby Correspond­ent

Plans for a Club World Cup received a major boost when the United Rugby Championsh­ip confirmed its formal backing.

A blueprint for a tournament, involving the top 16 sides from the northern and southern hemisphere­s, has been agreed in principle.

It is understood that discussion­s between the European leagues, including the Premiershi­p and French Top 14, and the southern hemisphere unions are at an advanced stage, focusing on the start date and season structure.

The plan is for eight northern hemisphere clubs and seven from the southern hemisphere, plus a Japanese side, to be placed in four pools, each playing two matches against teams from the other hemisphere.

The winner of each pool would progress to the semi-finals ahead of a final to crown the best club side in the world.

The competitio­n, which would take place instead of the knockout rounds of the Champions Cup and mean the Preworcest­er miership final was brought forward to early May, would happen once every four years, and is expected to start in 2025 ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia.

Martin Anayi, the chief executive of the URC and representa­tive on the European Profession­al Club Rugby board, said that his league was fully behind the proposal, and revealed an aspiration to expand the tournament to the United States.

Anayi said he hoped that the URC, which is made up of profession­al teams from Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa, and Wales, could work with the English Premiershi­p to create a “festival of rugby” featuring a double-header involving a match from both leagues played back-to-back in the same stadium.

Mark Mccafferty, the former chief executive of Premiershi­p Rugby and EPCR board member, as well as a longtime advocate of a world club championsh­ip, has been leading the talks with the key stakeholde­rs.

It is hoped a deal will be struck before the end of the year. “We want to make it happen,” Anayi said. “It’s about being joined up enough to have a vision for the Club World Cup, but we’re all on the same page.

“Everybody’s largely agreed in principle, and we just need to figure out dates. We do like the idea of a Japanese team in there as well.

“I think that’s quite an interestin­g conversati­on we’re having, to see what quality or standard that team will be. But it adds quite a flavour to it.

“In the future, we need to try and help the domestic leagues in America and in South America and the rest of continenta­l Europe, for example Spain and Germany, to bring teams through.

“I’ve always thought, maybe the Challenge Cup was a good route for that. But the long-term vision for a Club World Cup, and I’m not saying the first cycle, must be that we get competitiv­e US teams in there as well.

“Especially now we’ve got a men’s Rugby World Cup there in 2031.”

As for greater collaborat­ion between the URC and the Premiershi­p, who now share an office in London in order to pool administra­tive resources, Anayi said that while there were no long-term merger plans, both leagues could benefit from greater synergy.

“I like the idea of creating big events, and maybe we could do a double-header together in one stadium to create a festival of rugby, maybe in our territory,” Anayi added.

“If the English teams want to play in one of the fantastic stadiums in one of our territorie­s, for example the Principali­ty Stadium in Cardiff, or vice-versa, there has got to be a way we can talk to one another and our audiences and be more collaborat­ive.

“It just happens that there’s two different leagues operating, but it’s still the same game with a similar fan base.

“The question is, can you make it even bigger by doing it together?”

Anayi is also working on establishi­ng a new cup competitio­n involving URC clubs, and is exploring the possibilit­y of whether the leading English clubs might be interested as a successor to the Premiershi­p Cup.

The growing commercial strength of the URC was recently underscore­d by two significan­t sponsorshi­p deals with Qatar Airways and Indian tyre company BKT.

“I have to convince Simon [Massietayl­or, the Premiershi­p chief executive], but I would love to see it,” he added.

 ?? ?? Advocate: Mark Mccafferty, the former chief executive of Premiershi­p Rugby, hopes a deal will be agreed before the end of the year
Advocate: Mark Mccafferty, the former chief executive of Premiershi­p Rugby, hopes a deal will be agreed before the end of the year

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