English club euro exile 'unthinkable'
October 2, 2012
The six English teams vying for the Heineken Cup this year © PA Photos
The Heineken Cup organisers have claimed that it would be "almost unthinkable" to have a European tournament without English clubs.
The future of Europe's premier tournament is uncertain with the current format of the Heineken Cup coming to an end in 2014. English and French clubs have already served their notice to European Cup Rugby Ltd (ERC) citing an unfair qualification process which they deem to be weighted in favour of the RaboDirect PRO12 sides. This prompted fears that the two parties - Premiership Rugby representing the English clubs and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby looking after the Top 14 - would form a breakaway tournament.
These fears were further amplified when Premiership Rugby brokered their own television deal with BT Vision for rights to their team's European matches away from the collective ERC deal with Sky Sports. The ERC was infuriated and subsequently announced a renewal of its television rights deal with Sky Sports. And the divide was further widened between English clubs and the rest of Europe when the body in charge of French clubs voiced its support for a pan-European tournament and rejected any notion of an Anglo-French tournament. This sparked rumours that England could turn to South Africa to form an alternative Cup.
With European rugby facing an uncertain future, the ERC has held meetings with the six Unions in the Heineken Cup and those talks will continue next week. ERC chief executive Derek McGrath has hinted that European rugby's governing body would be open to some sort of compromise to prevent the English clubs from pulling out of Europe.
"It is almost unthinkable that could happen," McGrath said. "I think everyone knows how important the tournament has become in every single country. It (having English teams pull out) is not something we are focused on in any way.
"We have a two-year notice period for a reason, which is to allow us to understand where we might be going to. That is an open opportunity to allow people to understand what we might do differently."
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