Simon Halliday hopes a world club championship will start in 2022 following a groundbreaking World Rugby conference this month that involved delegates from leagues and players as well as unions.
Halliday took part in the virtual meeting as the chairman of European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR). Nothing was decided but the ideas of a tournament involving the top 16 clubs in the world along with a restructuring of the two Test windows to give the fixtures a competitive edge are being costed.
“There is a lot of dialogue going on,” said Halliday. “No date has yet been set for another meeting but everyone recognises that this is a critical time for the game, and not just at elite level. There is a sense that we are all in this together and the clubs were able to put their position across in the meeting.”
The chief topic of debate was the proposal for a global calendar drawn up by the Six Nations and Rugby Championship unions after a series of meetings. It recommended club seasons starting in January, taking a break in March when the two championships would start, and then being played to a conclusion before Tests would be held in October and November.
“The idea is that the Tests would be tournament-based along the lines of the last year’s Nations League proposal,” said Halliday. “A concern was that while combining the two Test windows might work financially for the unions, would it for the clubs? The French clubs presented a paper that was very well thought-out. It made it clear that you cannot suddenly just turn things around: I cannot see how a global calendar would start as early as next season because there is just not enough time to work out its financial viability.
“Clubs would probably take a hit in the summer while losing the holiday fixtures over Christmas would be costly, but would it make any difference to the unions if the tour windows remained in July and November? There is also the burn-out factor for players if they have two months of continuous internationals at the end of their season.”
EPCR has provision for a world club championship in its constitution and Halliday said it would not add to the length of a season, pointing out: “We would play the group stage of the Heineken Champions Cup and the quarter-finalists would be drawn with the last eight teams in Super Rugby.”
“The idea is that it would be played every four years. It would not be held in the year of a Lions tour or when a World Cup is staged, so we are looking at 2022, which gives us time, or 2024. It is an exciting idea and I hope the current crisis leads to a change in the way in which the game is governed, with clubs playing a full part.”
Next season’s Champions Cup is set to be cut by a week to ensure the campaign finishes before the Lions leave for South Africa. It is likely to be made up of eight groups of three, with clubs playing each other home and away before the winners of each section play two-legged quarter-finals.