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English teams facing isolation after Euro deal

Top English teams could be frozen out of top-flight European club rugby next season.

Five unions – Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French and Italian – say they stand "side by side" in driving a European club competition next season under the auspices of European Rugby Cup following talks in Dublin yesterday.

They released a statement to that effect, but there is no indication at this stage of the standpoints of French clubs and Welsh regions, who have already announced they want to be with England's 12 Aviva Premiership clubs in a new Rugby Champions' Cup next term.

Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation for the leading English clubs, has consistently said it no longer recognises ERC and will not participate in competitions under its jurisdiction.

In their statement, the five unions – minus the Rugby Football Union – said they had agreed the following.

"A European club competition is to take place during the 2014/2015 season following an optimised sporting and economic format with 20 teams, no matter how many countries are involved.

"The competition will be driven by the existing organisation (currently named ERC) which will remain in charge of the centralised sale and management of all commercial rights, amongst other things. Discussions over governance will be pursued in order to optimise the internal functioning of the existing organisation (currently named ERC).

"The common aim is to move eventually towards the integration of European competitions within an all-encompassing European rugby framework."

The comments are unlikely to set alarm bells ringing at Premiership Rugby, though.

They announced plans for a Rugby Champions Cup in September, a joint enterprise by the Premiership clubs and France's Top 14 under the Ligue Nationale du Rugby banner.

The four Welsh regions – Cardiff Blues, Ospreys, Newport Gwent Dragons and Scarlets – subsequently announced that they wanted to join the model.

Meanwhile, Wales hooker Ken Owens will make his first Test start for almost 18 months tonight against Tonga, after playing a patient waiting game.

The Scarlets forward is in an unenviable position of battling with human dynamo Richard Hibbard for Wales' number two shirt.

"To be fair, Rich has been outstanding the last 18 months or so, so I have had to bide my time a little bit, which I have been happy to do because I've had a lot of game-time off the bench and I've contributed to the team that way," Owens said.

Belfast Telegraph