ERC say all parties 'committed' to Heineken Cup talks
HEINEKEN Cup bosses have claimed that all parties - including the English and French - have "reaffirmed" their commitment towards keeping the tournament going.
It follows a meeting of European Rugby Cup directors in Dublin today, when attendees included Premiership Rugby's Peter Wheeler and Rene Bouscatel, of France's Ligue Nationale de Rugby as well as Welsh Rugby Union chief executive and Stuart Gallacher, representing the Welsh regions.
Less than 24 hours ago, English and French clubs announced plans for an alternative competition next season.
They served notice last year of their intention to quit the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup when an existing agreement expires next summer.
They want changes to the structure of both continental competitions, principally over the number of teams involved, the qualifying process and how funds are distributed.
Speaking on Tuesday, Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said: "We have had 15 months of discussions which haven't produced an outcome.
"There hasn't been a meeting since May, and there has been no urgency over the summer. Our clubs have been very strong in saying they need clarity.
"If we can't reach an outcome involving all the European clubs, we at least have to set up a competition involving the English and French clubs.
"If others want to come into that competition then we can look at that, but we have to get on and prepare."
ERC, though, has now issued a statement headlined "All parties reaffirm commitment to ERC negotiations".
The statement read: "Despite recent reports, all parties involved in the formulation of a new ERC Accord, including the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and Premiership Rugby, have reaffirmed their commitment to the process.
"A meeting focused solely on the negotiations will be convened by ERC as soon as practicable.
"It was agreed at a scheduled ERC Board meeting in Dublin today that ERC would facilitate the discussions and that the current points of difference, including the share of central revenues, qualification and season dates, would all be on the table.
"The board reiterated that European club competitions must be organised by ERC, and that any purported cross-border club tournaments needed the approval both of the IRB (International Rugby Board), and of the relevant Unions who are shareholders of ERC.
"Surprise was expressed at the timing and content of yesterday's media announcements by the LNR and Premiership Rugby, and representatives of both bodies were invited to explain their positions.
"It was pointed out that there was a range of proposals made by stakeholders, none of which were acceptable to all parties, and it was agreed that the negotiations towards a definitive solution needed to begin again in earnest."
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray, meanwhile, believes moves towards establishing a new Anglo-French competition next season were "inevitable".
"It was inevitable, it has to happen," Wray told ESPN.
"It is a Union competition, set up by the Unions, fair enough. But it is the clubs taking part in it and it's hugely important to the clubs. We want it to be a club-controlled competition.
"In addition, under the current structure, the two nations - France and England - who provide the vast majority of the revenue are permanently out-voted by the four other nations. In that system, you have to leave if you want to change something.
"And that is what hopefully we are doing. We are setting up our own competition which one hopes the other nations will join. We hope it will have better revenue and will be better run than it is at the moment.
"To me, the one person always neglected in these discussions is the customer. What do they want?
"They don't want more and more games, they want big games. And that applies to everything in life - the big concerts, the big songs, the big sports games. They don't want to see meaningless games. If that is what the customer wants, then that is what you've got to give them.
"Do we want the rest of the nations in it? Of course we do. It has got to be a competition that more accurately reflects the revenue generated by the various nations."