'There has to be a Heineken Cup next season'
September 9, 2013
Will this season's Heineken Cup be the last? © Getty Images
Welsh Rugby Union chief Roger Lewis has made a fresh plea to the Aviva Premiership clubs to save the Heineken Cup from possible extinction.
This season's battle for European club rugby supremacy could be the last if a row over the future structure of the competition and revenue distribution is not resolved in the coming months. The leading English clubs and their French counterparts have vowed to quit both the Heineken Cup and the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup after this season if their proposals for a re-vamp are not accepted but so far the PRO12 sides have refused to concede any ground on either issue.
The English and French clubs want to see the Heineken Cup reduced from a 24 to a 20-team competition and also a change to the qualification criteria that they insist favours the PRO12 by guaranteeing places to the Scottish and Italian sides regardless of their league position at the end of the season and to three out of the four Welsh and Irish teams.
The intensity of the row increased following the Premiership club's decision to incorporate European games in their recently-signed £152m broadcast rights deal with BT. European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup competitions, have a long-term broadcast partnership with Sky Sports that they recently extended.
A succession of meetings over the last year between European rugby's stakeholders have failed to break the deadlock but Lewis remains hopeful of a peace deal with the latest summit scheduled for this week. "There has to be a European Cup next season. It's too good to lose," he told the Western Mail.
"I was in Dublin last Monday. I met with the chief executive (Derek McGrath) of ERC and I was in London last Wednesday, where I met with some of the broadcasters involved in the European Cup.
"We have got to make sure it happens and we have got to say to the English clubs that you have got to step up and come to the table, and negotiate properly to come up with a solution because this issue, this problem has been created by the England ... and England has got to come and sort it."
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing the English clubs, recently conceded they were no nearer to agreeing a deal having received, "no proposals (from ERC Ltd) other than the status quo." More recently, Nigel Wray, the chairman of Premiership side Saracens, revealed that he does not expect the English clubs to be playing in any European competition next season.
ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux has also urged the English clubs to provide further details of their contentious deal with BT. "It's deadlocked," he told The Rugby Paper. "The English and French have made proposals which do not have the approval of other countries. There are added problems with the English who signed a unilateral contrast for the Premiership and the Heineken Cup with BT...The English club are hiding behind a contract, the details of which nobody has seen."
Another source reportedly close to proceedings hinted that the English clubs could find themselves isolated next season. "The French clubs (Ligue National de Rugby) have an entirely different relationship with their Union (Fédération Française de Rugby) to PRL (Premiership Rugby Ltd) and the RFU (Rugby Football Union)," they told the newspaper.
"LNR cannot do anything without the FFR's backing and the FFR have no intention of allowing their clubs to pulls out of European competitions....Could the Heineken Cup go ahead without the English? Certainly."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.