English clubs to snub Heineken Cup
England face the alarming prospect of entering the 2015 World Cup without players battle-hardened by European competition after their clubs announced they would be missing from next season's Heineken Cup.
Premiership Rugby declared on Thursday night it is "pursuing other options" after owners and chief executives from all 12 top-flight teams confirmed they will not be involved in a tournament run by European Rugby Cup.
In a repeat of 1998-99, the decision leaves England's clubs isolated from the rest of Europe from next season.
PRL chief executive Mark McCafferty refused to detail the "other options", but an expanded Premiership that includes Championship or Welsh sides or a competition involving South Africa provinces are possibilities.
The development will be viewed by England head coach Stuart Lancaster as the worst-case scenario, as it is inconceivable that any replacement will match the intensity of the Heineken Cup just months before the sport's global showpiece begins.
The absence of European activity from the fixture list leaves nine weekends to fill and the race is now on to occupy those slots with meaningful action.
McCafferty insists the Premiership clubs, armed with their lucrative broadcasting deal with BT Sport, are seeking a permanent rather than stop-gap solution.
"The clubs are financially in a better position next season than they are for the 2013-14 season because of our domestic TV deal and other uplifts in revenue we have in place," McCafferty said.
"Financially 2014-15 has never been an issue. The clubs don't have to focus on short-term solutions, they want a solution for the longer term.
"We have a busy six or seven weeks ahead of us and we'll probably call the clubs back in mid-January to take the next phase of decisions.
"Some of the possibilities have been speculated on, some haven't. There are options with pluses and minuses."
Owners and chief executives from all 12 clubs met in central London on Thursday to discuss the decision by their French counterparts to abandon the breakaway Rugby Champions Cup.
Under pressure from its union, Ligue Nationale de Rugby - representing the Top 14 - last week committed to the ERC-run format announced by the unions for the 2014-15 season.
Beyond 2014-15, however, LNR is seeking the introduction of an alternative competition overseen by a new body that will maximise the commercial interests of its clubs.
Once PRL had agreed once more not to work under ERC, it turned its attention to establishing an alternative for its club next season.
"ERC does not structurally recognise the role of the leagues and clubs in driving the success of club competitions, under the overall governance of Unions," a statement released by PRL read.
"Proposals put forward to address a new structure within a Rugby Champions Cup were agreed by a majority of the unions in October, alongside meritocratic competition formats and equitable financial distributions. However, these have not been accepted by all.
"The English Clubs have worked exhaustively over the last 18 months to propose solutions to the issues with the current European competitions and to provide a sustainable platform to grow the game in the various countries.
"The English clubs are now pursuing other options."