Heineken Cup
Premiership Rugby hint at euro compromise
ESPN Staff
December 12, 2012
New Bath owner Bruce Craig talks to the media following confirmation he would be taking over the Premiership club, Farleigh House, Bath, England, April 14, 2010
Bath owner Bruce Craig has hinted that Premiership Rugby may be willing to give ground in order to resolve the current euro row © Getty Images

Premiership Rugby officials are reportedly prepared to accept a compromise in order to resolve the long-running dispute over the future of the Heineken Cup.

Europe's leading clubs are set for a fresh round of talks on Wednesday aimed at bringing an end to a six-month saga that began when Premiership Rugby, representing England's top sides, and their French counterparts, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, served notice to leave the competition at the end of the current agreement that expires next season.

Premiership Rugby made the controversial move in a bid to re-shape the competition, particularly the qualification process that they insist favours the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs, and force a change to the distribution of revenue. The plans for an alternative 20-team tournament were proposed and promptly rejected by representatives from the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian sides along with European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup. The Celtic and Italian clubs tabled plans for a 32-team tournament that was also dismissed by their European partners.

Premiership Rugby have demanded that only the top six sides in the PRO12 are given a place in the Heineken Cup instead of the current set-up that rewards 10 teams and guarantees Scottish and Italian participation. However, there are fears that this could lead to some countries not being represented in the competition.

Two crisis meetings earlier this season failed to produce a new agreement with Premiership Rugby's lucrative new broadcast deal with BT, that conflicts with ERC's exclusive deal with Sky Sports, raising tensions further. But Bruce Craig, the owner of Bath who will be one of Premiership Rugby's negotiators at the latest meeting, has hinted that the clubs were prepared to give ground if agreement could be reached on governance and funding.

"I am sure an agreement can be reached that there would be at least one participant from each nation," Craig told The Daily Telegraph. "I believe there is a solution whereby the top four [of the Pro 12] would go through to a new primary competition and the next two sides going through would be for example the best Scottish and best Italian teams. In terms of a compromise, this allows it to be a true European competition."

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty, who will lead negotiations on behalf of the English clubs, is wary that the clock is ticking and is hoping for some significant progress at today's meeting. "We are at a delicate stage," he told The Independent. "There is no definite timetable, but we are getting to the point where we need to see some progress because the clock cannot be allowed to run down continually. We've already spent six months on this and when next season begins, clubs need to know exactly what they're trying to qualify for.

"Together with the French, we're keen to make the case for a strengthening of both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup. Two 20-team competitions, underpinned by a third tournament aimed at developing rugby nations like Russia and Georgia, Spain and Portugal… we believe very strongly in this and we'll push hard for it."

Speaking to The Guardian, McCafferty insisted that an agreement on the format must be reached before the equally contentious broadcast rights deal can be resolved. "I appreciate that there are very difficult issues to resolve but I feel there is a solution there that would benefit everyone," he said. "It is in the interests of no one that this drags on and on. We have put a lot of effort into this and we have shown flexibility. I hope we can make a breakthrough, but the longer we go without resolving anything, the more we will all have to start planning for alternatives."

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