Wray demands euro re-vamp
September 13, 2012
Saracens owner Nigel Wray lifts the Aviva Premiership trophy alongside Steve Borthwick back in 2011 © Getty Images
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray has claimed that the current format of the Heineken Cup "doesn't make sense" and demanded that the structure of the tournament is altered to reflect the financial muscle of the French and English clubs.
The future of European club rugby's premier tournament will be debated in Dublin next week amidst a public battle between Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body for English rugby's leading clubs, and European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Premiership Rugby has already served notice of their intention to cut their ties with the Heineken Cup and have also tied up a broadcast deal with BT that includes the rights to their games in any future European tournament.
The current Shareholder Agreement governing the structure of the Heineken Cup comes to an end at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season and Premiership Rugby are keen for the qualification criteria to be changed as part of a wider re-vamp.
At present, six teams from the Aviva Premiership are guaranteed to qualify for the tournament - and this is similar in the Top 14 - while in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Italy, all of their sides bar one gain entry to the tournament.
In Premiership Rugby's mind this is wrong, and it is a perception is echoed by Wray. "The Heineken Cup was set up by the Unions and fair play that they created it," he told ESPN. "There is no doubt that the English and French clubs contribute by miles the biggest part of the revenue and we don't get our just reward. That must be put right.
"The structure is clearly wrong in that we have to knock each other out to get into the tournament and all the other guys stroll in. And that's not right - we have to fight to get in and we provide most of the revenue. The terms have to be changed.
"I don't blame anybody in particular. If I was Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy - which is the majority and therefore out vote England and France - then I'd want to keep the situation as it is. That's perfectly normal. But from the point of view of England and France that doesn't make sense.
"The answer is that the Heineken Cup is obviously a tremendous tournament but the terms need to be tweaked. And the only way that is going to change is by making a noise. If you sit there quietly then the status quo will remain and that's not right. But this doesn't mean that we don't want the other four nations in - of course we do. We want a great European Cup but not on these terms."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.