English Rugby has offered its public support for a proposed Club World Cup, with RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney describing it as a “very good idea”, and hoping it can encourage a rivalry reminiscent of the Ryder Cup between the two hemispheres.
Sweeney, who recently returned to work after illness, says he has been across the idea’s development because he sits on the board of EPCR, who control European competitions.
The proposals, revealed by the Daily Telegraph, are for the competition to start in 2025 and take place every four years between the best club teams in the world.
"There's still a lot of work to do on that,” said Sweeney. “I sit on the EPCR board so I've been heavily involved and have full transparency on how that's developing.
“We actually welcome it, we think it's a very good idea. The intention is it would be staged in 2025, four pools of four, eight teams from the north, seven from the south plus Japan.
"It's once every four years and sits in the same window as the EPCR Champions and Challenge Cup, so we're not adding additional weekends to the calendar which is one of the critical challenges you have in rugby, you just can't add on additional match weekends.
“There is still a long way to go with it, it's not a completely done deal yet, but in terms of direction as a union we certainly support it and the clubs are very keen to get it done.
Sweeney believes the rivalry between the hemispheres, seen in this month’s tours, would have added spice if the proposal goes through. England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland all sat 1-1 after two matches against Southern hemisphere opposition, with England and Ireland emerging victorious in Australia and New Zealand respectively.
“It just will heighten excitement and awareness around the game,” he said. "Fans are looking for new formats, new things to talk about. This summer there was a lot of talk around the north-south rivalry, there was almost a Ryder Cup situation towards the end there, in terms of was it going to be 6-6 or would the north win all of those final matches on the final weekend.
“There seems to be more conversation around that and [the proposal] just adds to that in terms of who has the best clubs in the world, the best club setup, is it the north or the south. Seeing some of those club powerhouses compete against each other, the clubs look forward to that.”
Asked why the competition would only take place every two years, Sweeney said: “It's in the British and Irish Lions year and the lead-up to that. The sense was that doing it every two years would be too much proliferation. Allow it to settle down, give it time and space to develop.
“At this stage having it every four years was the better option. There were discussions around 2024, 2025, where does it sit. Having it in the middle of two World Cups is probably the best way to go. At this stage once every four years is the optimal solution in the context of a global calendar.”