Top rugby teams eye world club championship

Updated: January 20, 2012

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The champions of the northern and southern hemispheres could soon face off in a world club championship if rugby chiefs can find a suitable place in the crowded international calendar.

English rugby chief Mark McCafferty said there was plenty of interest from clubs, sponsors and broadcasters for a match — or series — between the winners of Europe’s Heineken Cup and the Super 15.

Stressing the championship would not take place before the 2015 World Cup in Britain, McCafferty told The Associated Press: “The thought of seeing the Bulls against Toulouse or Saracens take on Queensland Reds would be great.

“There are a lot of great sides in both hemispheres. It would only take one or two weeks but finding that one or two weeks is the problem,” added McCafferty, the chief executive of Premiership Rugby in England.

Football and rugby league already have similar championships in place.

The first FIFA-organized Club World Cup was held in Brazil in 2000 — when it was called the Club World Championship — but has had limited success, with the competition coming midway through the packed European calendar.

In the inaugural tournament, Manchester United caused an outcry in England by pulling out of the FA Cup in order to compete in Brazil. European clubs, such as Champions League winners Barcelona and Inter Milan, have rearranged their domestic fixture schedules in recent years to enable them to fit in the intercontinental competition.

Rugby league, meanwhile, has staged a match called the World Club Challenge between the winners of Europe’s Super League and Australia’s NRL annually since 2000, and intermittently since 1976. The fixture takes place before both league seasons begin.

Rugby union’s problem is that European teams not only play in their domestic league and cup campaigns but also the Heineken Cup or European Challenge Cup, Europe’s second-tier club competition.

Then there are the international fixtures and the windows either side of test matches where countries are entitled to call up players for training camps.

In short, there is little wiggle-room in the calendar.

“We are talking all the time (to southern hemisphere officials) about improving the competition structures and growing interest in the game around the world,” McCafferty said.

“And this is one of the ideas. We have probably talked to them about it for the last three to four years.

“These things take a lot of time in the planning. But when the opportunity comes around, we have to have made the planning and be ready to take that opportunity. There’s an appetite to do it from the clubs in both hemispheres. Commercially, sponsors and broadcasters would like to see it happen. And supporters would like to see it happen too.”

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