Heineken Cup
Anglo-French clubs to form new euro tournament
ESPN Staff
September 10, 2013
Toulon could be one of the last winners of the Heineken Cup as we know it © Getty Images

Premiership Rugby has announced talks regarding the future of the Heineken Cup "have now ended" and has put in place plans for a new tournament for the 2014-15 season which features English and French sides.

This season's battle for European club rugby supremacy looks set to be the last with the row over the future structure of the competition and revenue distribution seemingly at an impasse. The leading English clubs and their French counterparts have previously 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. On Tuesday, Premiership Rugby has said these discussions "have now ended".

The long goodbye?

  • If this really is the end of the Heineken Cup, then what a sad way for the greatest club tournament in world rugby to bow out. Dating back to 1995, the Heineken Cup has given the game some unique, unforgettable sporting moments but such is the way of the modern game, no tournament, club or player is sacred.
  • What has become abundantly clear, is that tradition is now a mere afterthought when it comes to discussions regarding the future of the game. It became apparent the clubs were deeply unsettled over what they deemed to be a lack of proportion in the slices of the financial pie the ERC handed out as a result of the Heineken Cup's lucrative success. The announcement of PRL selling its own television rights muddied the waters further.
  • Tuesday's announcement seems to signify the final straw being loaded on to the ever-slouching camel's back. Premiership Rugby has now played its hand and the global game awaits some official news from France of the Top 14's intentions. The pressure is on the likes of Italy, Wales, Ireland and Scotland to decide whether they will follow suit and abandon the ERC to join the new Anglo-French competition or push for compromise.
  • Any supporter of rugby will want to see a fair version of the Heineken Cup next season. As one commentator once said following Ronan O'Gara's last-gasp drop-goal against Northampton Saints two seasons ago, "this tournament takes you to new heights, year on year". Here's hoping compromise can be found both financially and in the qualification process so Tuesday's statement can be seen as the catalyst for positive change rather than the end of the road for the Heineken Cup.
  • Tom Hamilton

The English and French clubs wanted to see the Heineken Cup reduced from a 24 to a 20-team competition, and also a change to the qualification criteria that they insisted favoured 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 £152 million 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 and Tuesday's announcement from PRL seems to signal the end of the Heineken Cup as we know it.

PRL has announced that it will now work alongside French clubs to form a new tournament for the 2014-15 season which will be "open to teams from other countries".

"Despite numerous meetings between the stakeholders over the last year, the last of which was in May, discussions have been unsuccessful and the clubs can only conclude that negotiations on any new European agreement have now ended," the statement from PRL read.

"The English and French clubs have proposed the formation of two new, stronger competitions of 20 teams each, based on the principles of qualification on merit from each league, the inclusion of teams from all six existing countries and the expansion into new markets. These proposals could form the basis of future competitions.

"However, given the importance and urgency of the current position, and the reconfirmation that the French clubs will not participate in any competition unless it includes the English clubs, the clubs have now asked Premiership Rugby to take immediate action to put in place a competition for 2014/15 to include the French and English clubs but which will also be open to teams from other countries."

It remains to be seen if the clubs from the PRO12 buy into this new competition. On Monday, Welsh Rugby Union CEO Roger Lewis said the English clubs had to "negotiate properly" with regards to the future of the competition.

Lewis told the Western Mail: "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."

Following PRL's statement, the ERC said all the stakeholders will meet in Dublin on Wednesday to "review the consultation process to date". The ERC did concede, however, there "is a shared sense of frustration among ERC's stakeholders at the lack of progress towards a new Accord".

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