Roger Lewis: Long may the Heineken Cup continue
ROGER Lewis has warned rugby is in danger of losing the plot by presiding over the demise of the Heineken Cup — "the greatest club competition in the world".
The Welsh Rugby Union's chief executive used the Cardiff launch of this year's European tournaments to throw out an offer of talks to clubs from the English Premiership and French Top 14, who are committed to leaving and setting up a new competition, the Rugby Champions Cup.
Lewis also made clear the WRU would be happy to speak about the distribution of revenue and the issue of meritocracy of qualification, based on positions in the Pro12.
"I am prepared to talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime — today, tomorrow, next week — to ensure that we can arrive at common ground and a way forward together," he said.
"We would be more than happy to speak to the clubs in France and England if their unions were agreeable.
"We have to use any door at our disposal, or any window or any chimney. We have to get the right people round the table at the right time to discuss the right things.
"We are in danger of losing the plot here. This competition is simply too good to lose.
"It is the greatest rugby cup club competition in the world and we simply have to make sure that common sense prevails."
Lewis continued: "We have to focus on the fundamentals, with the first of those being the competition itself.
"The WRU is more than happy to go down the road of meritocracy of qualification, based on positions in the Pro12.
"And we are also happy to have an equitable distribution of the monies that flow out of the tournament. That is a major step forward.
"If we focus on those two building blocks, we will get a sense of movement and then we can discuss the other issues."
The problem for Lewis and for ERC is that the English and French clubs are dead set against taking part in union-run European competitions.
The English have a bumper £152 million contract with BT Sport, clashing with ERC's deal with Sky. If ERC dies, then some among the English clubs believe the Sky contract will perish as well, though that is uncertain legally.
Even so, Lewis believes the impasse can be broken.
"We feel a solution can be arrived at and that there is a way forward," he said.
"There's 19 years of history here, 19 years of legacy and the prospect of considering starting all over again is simply unnecessary if we can reach agreement.
"It's about sending out the message that we are comfortable with the idea of meritocracy and different distribution of monies. Let's get that onto the table and discuss that."
He added: "We have to honour our relationship with Sky. That's an unequivocal position.
"I think everything is resolvable, I passionately do. It is a great competition. Long may it continue."