LONDON - England face the alarming prospect of entering the 2015 Rugby 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 yesterday it is "pursuing other options" after owners and chief executives from all 12 top-flight teams confirmed they will not be involved in European competition.
In a repeat of 1998-99, the decision leaves England's clubs isolated from the rest of Europe from next season.
Premier Rugby 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."
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.