McCafferty defiant despite euro success
January 25, 2013
Premiership side Harlequins qualified for this season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals as top seeds © PA Photos
Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty insists the strong showing from English sides in this season's Heineken Cup will have no bearing on their desire to re-shape the competition.
Harlequins, Saracens and Leicester will all feature in this season's quarter-finals having progressed through the group stages that played out in the shadow of an ongoing debate regarding the future of Europe's premier club competition. Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body for English rugby's leading clubs, and their French counterparts, Ligue Nationale de Rugby, have served notice to leave the competition at the end of next season unless their European partners embrace change.
Premiership Rugby would like to see a reduction to a 20-team competition that would also incorporate a change to the qualification system that they insist favours the RaboDirect PRO12 clubs. However, their proposals have been rejected by rejected by representatives from the Welsh, Irish, Scottish and Italian sides and European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of both the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, with the six-month deadlock and an additional TV rights row threatening the future of the competition.
"From our point of view it doesn't change things as regards to Europe as we will have lean years and better ones," he said. "Fundamentally, there are a lot of ways that we think the European competitions could be strengthened and from our point of view, those things wouldn't have changed whether we had a good year or a bad year.
"There are still lots of questions about the format of the competition and making sure it gets stronger. We have a proposal on the table for two competitions of 20 and we are not moving from that and the French think the same."
Premiership Rugby's plans extend to the Challenge Cup that they insist suffers from a lack of quality until it reaches the knock out stages. "I think it will make both competitions stronger," said McCafferty. "The problem with the Challenge Cup is that it is still too weak in the pool stages and only really comes to life in the knock out stages."
The talks are set to continue next month with the latest ERC board meeting and while McCafferty does expect a resolution at that juncture he is hopeful of some progress in the coming weeks. "I am not sure the board meeting will change that much," he said. "I am sure people will talk throughout the Six Nations and we will see if we can get any breakthroughs on that. We put our proposals out there, we have not really had anything proposed the other way apart from status quo which we have already served notice on."
McCafferty is also confident that the Premiership contingent can defy the odds and go yet further in this season's Heineken Cup. "The guys have put themselves in a good position to do that - a couple of home quarter-finals and everyone knows the stats. But Leicester will also fancy themselves going down to Toulon. They certainly have what it takes to be right in the mix even though they will have to go about it the hard way."
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.