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Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

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Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Tobar » Mon, 13 May 2019, 00:55

This weekend's Champions Cup was a great spectacle of an event between two of the top European clubs in a sold out 50,000 seat stadium. However, I couldn't help but think of the fact that the remaining professional and semi-professional clubs in Europe are relegated to the Continental Shield with just 2 teams in the Challenge Cup. However, both teams in this year's Challenge Cup came away without winning a single game and staggering point differentials of -304 and -320 (with no other team having a lower differential of -80). When it comes to the Continental Shield, some of the best teams don't even participate because the team owners don't think it's worth participating. In both cases, money is clearly an issue.

So while it would be terrific to increase the overall number of non-Six Nations teams it clearly isn't a viable solution to the problem. Simply throwing more teams into the EPCR wouldn't solve much of anything. So what can be done to properly include more European pro rugby clubs into the European Pro Club Rugby tournaments? Or, if we keep the level the same then how can we improve the current teams who participate each year?


*For the record, I'm also fully aware of the fact that despite the name, the EPCR is completely run by the Six Nations and the 3 pro leagues so they have 0 responsibility/requirement to include other countries. But I think it's a shame that there aren't more leagues

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby TheStroBro » Mon, 13 May 2019, 01:56

Well, many teams eligible for competition in the Continential Shield aren't teams. They're clubs.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Working Class Rugger » Mon, 13 May 2019, 04:11

Tobar wrote:This weekend's Champions Cup was a great spectacle of an event between two of the top European clubs in a sold out 50,000 seat stadium. However, I couldn't help but think of the fact that the remaining professional and semi-professional clubs in Europe are relegated to the Continental Shield with just 2 teams in the Challenge Cup. However, both teams in this year's Challenge Cup came away without winning a single game and staggering point differentials of -304 and -320 (with no other team having a lower differential of -80). When it comes to the Continental Shield, some of the best teams don't even participate because the team owners don't think it's worth participating. In both cases, money is clearly an issue.

So while it would be terrific to increase the overall number of non-Six Nations teams it clearly isn't a viable solution to the problem. Simply throwing more teams into the EPCR wouldn't solve much of anything. So what can be done to properly include more European pro rugby clubs into the European Pro Club Rugby tournaments? Or, if we keep the level the same then how can we improve the current teams who participate each year?


*For the record, I'm also fully aware of the fact that despite the name, the EPCR is completely run by the Six Nations and the 3 pro leagues so they have 0 responsibility/requirement to include other countries. But I think it's a shame that there aren't more leagues


What Europe needs is something akin to SLAR to occur.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby victorsra » Mon, 13 May 2019, 04:59

We don't know if SLAR will be a success or at least sustainable ... I still can't see it working in Brazil. The level of interest inside Brazilian rugby community is still very low.
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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby vino_93 » Mon, 13 May 2019, 06:19

I'd like to see something like IIHF Continental Cup in ice hockey. Short tournaments, but involving every minor nations who wants to be in.

Or see EPCR / eastern rugby federations taking the Shield in hands and making it valuable ... This mean a better TV coverage, more clubs from Romania, Russia, Georgia, Spain, ... Something similar to Challenge and Champions Cup, not something in italian hands to promote italian rugby...

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 07:52

It is necessary to create an international professional league for clubs in Russia, Romania, Georgia, Italy and Germany. This league must negotiate with the EPCR to get 4-6 places in the Challenge Cup. Challenge Cup can be expanded to 24 clubs. After a few years, you can start talking about a place in the Champions Cup for the winner of this league.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Armchair Fan » Mon, 13 May 2019, 08:29

As long as EPCR believes creating a tournament is just enough to magically see their continental Europe market grow this won't grow. They don't accept the level of investment really needed to make this competition attractive and they threw to the bin their only chance to see a serious effort from a Tier 3 country (Germany). The question is not how to increase participation but why the hell Continental Shield is still in place.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 08:51

Russia proposed a league project that can replace the Continental Shield. Even better. The project is a full-fledged League like PRO14, where clubs will be covered by transportation costs and it will be possible that the prize fund will be available. On the part of the clubs, you need to collect your best players from national championships, have decent infrastructure and support state media.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Canalina » Mon, 13 May 2019, 09:23

Armchair Fan wrote:...The question is not how to increase participation but why the hell Continental Shield is still in place.

Continental Shield will be axed, also the coach and a player of the club ranked 4th in italian Top12 (so theoretically qualified to the Shield) openly confirmed it. The hypothesis currently on the stage here in Italy is to field a selection of Top12 in Challenge Cup, but at the moment it seems just an italian idea with no clues about an EPCR appreciation.
Anyway, I think we should remember this "poor" Continental Shield every time we criticize the big boards or every time we dream about a new competition. The Shield was somehow perfect, as idea: it was managed by the non-british and non-french federations, it awarded an European trophy and a qualification to the Challenge Cup. Theoretically, it had a new, enormous, virgin market to colonize. We should have expected all the clubs from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Russia, Romania and Georgia fighting to have a place on it, but year by year the number of interested clubs was less and less. Televisions almost ignored the Shield (some broadcasting in Romania, maybe some in Georgia, nothing at all in Italy), the clubs gave preference to the national championship (at least here in Italy) and the same did the fans. So the sponsors. And it's the second time the Shield fails because also in the 90s EPCR tried to launch a third cup with the same low success

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 09:29

I do not agree. In Russia, the Shield had a very high status and many clubs wanted to participate there. But for some reason, different non-sports first pushed the Enisei and Krasny Yar between themselves. Then the Krasny Yar was not invited at all. About VVA and Kuban did not even talk.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Canalina » Mon, 13 May 2019, 09:38

But, if so, they were the italian, spanish, german, romanian clubs (maybe mostly the italian ones) that didn't accept Krasny Yar or didn't invite to VVA and Kuban. So, anyway, it was not a fault of EPCR but of the rest of the continent

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 09:44

I think the decisions of the Italian Federation. They ruled the Shield. It was not interesting to them that the Russians beat the Italians. For them it was a surprise. Therefore, they minimized the participation of Russians as much as possible. I think that in the new pro league they should not repeat the mistake of the Italians. It is necessary to put a sports principle on first place.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby honestly_united » Mon, 13 May 2019, 10:15

There isn't one magic wand that can instantly solve the problems, even throwing money that club owners / unions dont have at the problem wont instantly solve the problem.

€3/4M to pay for 4/5 current top internationals probably would get you 1 or 2 wins in the pool stages at best, but that is a one off, and you probably wont re-coup anything and your back to the start again the next year.

I know the weather / time of year the games played is a big issue for the Russian teams in particular, so leaving that aside

For me the starting point is with the REC, that needs to be built so it generates income for all the countries participating - its been discussed many times so wont go into this more.

The current model for the 6 nations countries is that the 6/7 home internationals / TV / sponsorship generates the majority of the money to pay for the international players and also a large chunk gets distributed to top clubs, and the remainder to the grass roots.

The top clubs do generate their own income, but (this was 2016/17 figures) they receive over £2m from the RFU and over £4m from the league (TV / league sponsorship), before you start on match day and sponsorship income, which will cover the £7m salary cap.

For the likes of Russia / Romania / Georgia / Spain to have competitive teams you firstly need the players and they need to be playing at a high level.

Competitive league / fixtures - teams competing in europe need to be playing at a high level every week so they are ready for europe, whether this is an improvement in their home league, or more combined leagues (ie central europe say 4 /5 German teams with a few Dutch & Belgian for example or an Iberian league) if your winning your local games by 50/60 points, it doesn't help that the week after you are playing a top european team then lose by a huge score. If you take Georgia for example they have enough forwards playing in france to fill 8 home based teams. The other nations probably have into 15/20 players playing abroad. If the unions can generate the income at international level, to give the top clubs additional income to attract back the players that are the lower pro clubs then you increase the standard of the leagues, which should generate more interest.

Say if Spain for example could generate 5,000 extra fans per say 6 home international in a year, at €20 per head thats an extra €600,000, which could be €50,000 to each club, or pay for 1 good quality player per club as a marquee player. Marketed properly this should boost the interest in the club, and boost the overal quality of the league.

Obviously in practice this is a lot harder to do than on paper - getting 5000 additional fans is the first problem, and it would mean lobbying world rugby to ensure you can get good fixtures in November that generate interest or TV income. Also its competing with 2nd or 3rd tier league teams in France and England for players - in the first instance you have to sell what could be in terms of standards rather than what it is now.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 10:43

If someone is embarrassed that the new pro league will be organized by the Russians, then look at the Gazprom SEHA handball league. Clubs from Romania, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Belarus and Slovakia have no problems with Russians. And for such major sponsors as Gazprom, several million euros a year for the rugby or handball league is not a problem.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby sk 88 » Mon, 13 May 2019, 10:52

I don't actually see the problems with some big thrashings in the Challenge Cup, obviously its not ideal but its not a reason in and of itself to make changes if other things are being achieved.

For instance, if we are to include more teams there needs to be a business plan from EPRC to achieve this. Spain is a decent TV market, what needs to happen for the Spanish TV market to take an interest? Is it Spanish players in the main teams at the business end or Spanish teams competing regularly in the group stage of the Challenge Cup? Obviously both would help but which is more important?

It will take at least 2 TV contract cycles if not 3 for serious money to come in from anywhere, at best, so that means 6 to 9 years. We've never really seen European Rugby have that level of strategic patience at club level.

Also there is still fundamental disagreement about whether Italy is an example for others to follow or a cautionary tale for others to avoid. If we go with example; the aim/aspiration should be for Valladoid to be the new Treviso. If we go with tale to avoid the focus should be on professionalising the Spanish league at depth and potentially using European money to do that.

But as I say from an operational POV EPRC is compromisied here, I know the LNR & Prem would want other professional competitions to be club based as it secures their model and it likely creates allies for international release windows as well as develops markets for their domestic TV rights, whereas the IRFU & SRU would probably want new countries to take their model to secure it and grow the market for the ProInfinity. Ironically neither really have the capital (both financial and sporting) to do it without the other.

So basically unless European rugby grows to the extent that one model dominates the other I can't see that balance being broken for a while. It's lasted the whole 20 years I've followed the game so far.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Armchair Fan » Mon, 13 May 2019, 12:00

Unfortunately whereas Spain might be a decent market, Spanish TV market isn't that tasty. Public TV is cash-strapped (FER pays production costs to be broadcasted there), private TV channels have never shown an interest in rugby and Movistar holds almost a monopoly on pay TV, with DAZN yet to settle here. Why would Movistar increase the money they are paying for rugby if a Spanish team competes in Europe? They already have RWC, 6N, TRC, Champions and Challenge Cup and Sevens World Series. They won't increase the number of subscriptions because VRAC o El Salvador play Challenge Cup.

But hey, my reasoning goes beyond whether it affects Spain or not, because there are a number of challenges to overcome until we see again a Spanish team in a European competion, starting with scheduling conflicts. What I mean is that if EPCR really intends to make money outside its comfort zone or to make its current sponsors happier by increasing their reach, they must absolutely invest: offer attractive prize money, cover transportation costs, produce TV signal and offer it to FTA channels... Basically we're on the same page, it needs a long-run plan EPCR has never tried to even discuss. Quite the contrary, they have put all the possible obstacles in place with interdiction of streaming, ridiculous fees to show Shield games on local TV, an outdated website...

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Tobar » Mon, 13 May 2019, 13:12

So money/professionalism is the root of the issues here. Simply throwing more teams into the Challenge Cup or Continental Shield doesn’t fix the problem.

There’s the solution of a pan European league, similar to the Pro14 but a lower division. This would basically include the REC countries plus possibly Italy. This really seems the most equitable to improve as many countries as possible but has its own issues. How profitable would this be? What clubs would join? Would you create brand new teams or use existing clubs? If you use existing clubs do you end up alienating others in the country who may not support them? Do you pick smaller cities like Valladolid because that’s a rugby stronghold and risk a smaller market? Or do you create new teams and place them in recognizable markets like Madrid or Barcelona but get no support because there is no club history?

Then there’s the option of improving domestic leagues. This seems most feasible in Spain, Romania and Georgia but other countries don’t seem to have an overall strong club scene and just have a few teams dominating at the top. This will likely be the most sustainable solution for these countries for long term growth but then the other REC countries don’t benefit.

Side note - how are discussions going for Spain’s proposed pro league?

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 13:41

The approximate project of new pro league with the big Russian sponsor.
16 professional clubs that play 15 rounds (April - August). Then in September and the beginning of October the big playoff, in each round (quarter finals, semi-finals and finals) games at home and away. The finalists will play 21 games each. If it is possible to come to an agreement with the EPCR, then the best 4-6 clubs from this league will play in the Challenge Cup.
Payment of transportation costs. Games on the best stadiums of cities, mandatory broadcast on national TV, as well as free broadcast of all matches on the league website.
Approximate composition of the league in the first season: Timisoara, Baia Mare, Steaua (Bucharest), CSM (Bucharest), Aia (Kutaisi), Lokomotiv (Tbilisi), Batumi, Calvisano, Rovigo, Enisei-STM (Krasnoyarsk), Krasny Yar (Krasnoyarsk), VVA (Moscow Region), Slava (Moscow), Kuban (Krasnodar), Lokomotiv (Penza) and Strela (Kazan).
Further expansion to 20 clubs is possible, while reducing the playoffs to one game in each round on the field team, which will take place higher.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby vino_93 » Mon, 13 May 2019, 14:08

Can't see the interest for Romania. All Russian pro clubs in but not all Romanians ? That means cutting by two number of pro teams there. Or they have financial troubles and are closed to bankruptcy ?

Same for italy. That would anew kill their national Championship, and I don't think that's the plan.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Armchair Fan » Mon, 13 May 2019, 14:14

Tobar wrote:Side note - how are discussions going for Spain’s proposed pro league?

No noise. Theoretically they are working on it, although let me repat that it won't be a brand new league, it will just be clubs taking over current championship. There were delays in the legal creation of the association, but they looked sorted out and now they need to negotiate with FER. Their aim is beginning to control some aspects in 2019-2020 season then have full control for the following year. But that's just a plan, the reality is that among the clubs association there are opposite views, with some driving change and other just happy to be perennial leechers of the system.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby RugbyLiebe » Mon, 13 May 2019, 14:18

Tobar wrote:So money/professionalism is the root of the issues here.


No. The root of the issue is the "Rule Britannia - f*** the rest (with some figleaf exceptions)"-mentality which led to this problem 100 years before professionalism arrived. The second root is, that if there was true professionalism, there also wouldn't be this problem. But 6N and World Rugby admins are better amateurs, which still haven't understood or maybe don't want to understand due to this "Britannia folklore", that their lack of growth imagination is the root of all their problems.

I don't see any viable solution in first place than to
a) World Rugby to force the 6 Nations to play their European counterparts in, without exception, all age grade youth rugby every year and also every now and then in adult rugby. If somebody comes up with the British "lack of physicality"-yarn, slap them in the face and then let them scrum against Georgia for 3 hours in a row.

b) actually bloody start to develop US-sport-like marketing channels with highlights in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. Maybe add Dutch to it. Get people involved who actually do speak another language then English and have another perspective. Also make sure that your social media sites and rugby papers and magazine actually do promote tier2 rugby and the continental championships. Have a bloody word if a "rugby journalist" says something derogative about tier2 nations (we all remember the Brazil-Germany "what's that doing here" incident. I can personally guarantee you, that in soccer, his boss would have gotten a call within five minutes, to make sure this doesn't happen again. Bayern Munich i.e. even did this with minor things like SMS-services and teletext etc. two decades ago)

c) open up the second tier "Euro" Cup, with guaranteed places to at least the REC nations. If wanted allow their national teams to take part in it (aka like Ireland, but only one region). Will it grow overnight? Surely not. But it is not that those nations won't have the attendance of worse tier1 teams.

d) World Rugby needs to finally have a plan. A written plan, with clear steps what happens next, when you've got achieved step 1.
Strictly ban nations who actively destroy developments by leaving continental competitions if they don't like that somebody finished ahead of them (or whatever excuse they come up with) Make sure, that every nation knows that not playing will cost them way more money than playing.

Will any of this happen? Probably not, as this lack of growth imagination seems to be a cultural thing. But waiting for a miracle that billionaire supporters come out in all other countries at once is ridiculous. Even more if it is a sport with a proven record of giving basically a sh*t about some basic values of sportsmanship like playing whoever comes up and giving everyone a chance to play.

Would be great to see if Eastern European nations get their act together with Russian initiative, they got even less chances to get any help from the 6N than the other nations.

/rant over :D
How to grow rugby worldwide?
Look at the world ranking in July. Teams ranked 1-10 have to play one team from 11-20 (they don't play in a regular competition) away the next year. 11-20 play 21-30 away and so on. Yes, it really is that simple.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby STMKY » Mon, 13 May 2019, 14:30

vino_93 wrote:Can't see the interest for Romania. All Russian pro clubs in but not all Romanians ? That means cutting by two number of pro teams there. Or they have financial troubles and are closed to bankruptcy ?

Same for italy. That would anew kill their national Championship, and I don't think that's the plan.

The interest is that the league be interesting with unpredictable results. To in these clubs to collect all the best players from the national championships. Also in Russian and Romanian clubs there are a lot of good foreigners. Good money really came to Russian rugby. An example of an Strela from Kazan. They have already invited the head coach from South Africa, JP Nel and three players from there. They have a big sponsor. JP build a strong team. Next year the budget will be about 3-4 million dollars.
The Italians have two franchises in PRO14. By your logic, they have long killed their championship.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby dans » Mon, 13 May 2019, 14:48

STMKY wrote:The approximate project of new pro league with the big Russian sponsor.
16 professional clubs that play 15 rounds (April - August). Then in September and the beginning of October the big playoff, in each round (quarter finals, semi-finals and finals) games at home and away. The finalists will play 21 games each. If it is possible to come to an agreement with the EPCR, then the best 4-6 clubs from this league will play in the Challenge Cup.
Payment of transportation costs. Games on the best stadiums of cities, mandatory broadcast on national TV, as well as free broadcast of all matches on the league website.
Approximate composition of the league in the first season: Timisoara, Baia Mare, Steaua (Bucharest), CSM (Bucharest), Aia (Kutaisi), Lokomotiv (Tbilisi), Batumi, Calvisano, Rovigo, Enisei-STM (Krasnoyarsk), Krasny Yar (Krasnoyarsk), VVA (Moscow Region), Slava (Moscow), Kuban (Krasnodar), Lokomotiv (Penza) and Strela (Kazan).
Further expansion to 20 clubs is possible, while reducing the playoffs to one game in each round on the field team, which will take place higher.


The Russian sponsor will need to pay A LOT for a Eastern Pro league to atract Italian, Spanish or Romanian clubs.
Sticking points: the difficult proposed calendar (Apr-Aug) and the already established internal national championships.
In my opinion to have the top 4 romanian clubs participate in such a league, it will mean destroying the SuperLiga. I don't think FRR wil go to that extent.
The big Russian sponsor could just take over the Shield, re-brand and re-launch with a new purpose...:)...and put a decent prize on it!
Any Tier 2 club competition to make money needs to be stable and capture the remaining big European markets. And by that means also protecting/managing their markets from the British&French 'money-men'.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby Thomas » Mon, 13 May 2019, 15:42

The issue here that no one has mentioned is coaching development and I don't see it or I am missing something.

For every professional setup at a minimum you need up to 5 to 6 Coaches not including the Sports medicine side of the equation. Not just about the players but the outlay for personnel that is where there may be additional problems.

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Re: Increasing the number of countries in EPCR

Postby victorsra » Mon, 13 May 2019, 16:02

English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. Maybe add Dutch to it.

Dutch? Not following the logic. If you are talking about World Rugby it is obviously much more important Japanese than Dutch :lol: :roll: And quickly start a Chinese project. If you are talking about Rugby Europe obviously Russian comes before Dutch...
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