Last year saw five teams enter the European Trophy – Europe’s second level XVs tournament - but this year there will be no competition at all.
Rugby Europe have confirmed that there will be no European Trophy fifteens tournament this season after a notice to that effect that appeared on the Finnish Rugby Federation website, connected with yesterday’s game against Latvia
"Due to the continuing challenging financial climate for all of our unions and the promotion of Portugal to Championship level, there will be no Women's Trophy competition this season", they said this afternoon. "We at Rugby Europe would still encourage teams to continue playing in some capacity and wherever Test matches can be arranged, we will of course support and they can take part under the guise of Rugby Europe.”
Last year five teams entered – Portugal, Finland, Germany, Czechia and Belgium. Portugal were champions and gained promotion to the top-level European Championship, where they will join Spain, Netherlands and Sweden (who had been promoted as champions the previous season).
Finland ended runners-up, despite their final game against Belgium not being played.
This season Germany, Czechia and Belgium failed to take up their invitations to join the competition, leaving Finland as the only entrant.
Funding for men’s teams in European competitions invariably takes priority among smaller unions, several of which financial problems. Germany announced in February that they were cutting funding for their women’s and youth teams to save money with neither taking part in European XVs competitions in 2023/4, so their absence - while disappointing - Is not entirely a surprise.
No information has been published about Czechia’s plans although they continue to have funding issues. Despite winning the European Trophy twice in recent years, their women’s team still do not have their own kit – they have to share kit with men’s and youth teams, which accounts for their often-eccentric numbering in international games. The players take the shirts that fit best which are not always the correct number for their position.
Belgium only recently returned to test rugby after a financial crisis and are having regular training and have announced their intention to play at least one friendly before the end of 2023, but disapointing performances last season suggests that Belgium may be looking to rebuild before re-entering European competition. The possibility of promotion to the Championship will not be an incentive is not the incentive it was for Sweden or Portugal as none of the remaining nations are at an appropriate level of development yet.
Finland have said that they will be looking to arrange games against near neighbours to replace the Trophy, with yesterday’s game with Latvia being the first, and Rugby Europe hope that the competition will be revived in 2024/25.
Sevens is unaffected as many unions have funding from Olympic associations that is earmarked to support sevens.