Is this the end of the Heineken Cup?
THE Heineken Cup last night moved closer to the brink after English clubs instructed Premiership Rugby to put in place a new European competition for next season.
The news will send a tremor through the Pro12 and especially worry the Welsh regions, who already have major financial concerns compared to their rivals.
There has been sabre-rattling ever since the Premiership and Top 14 clubs served notice 15 months ago of their decision to withdraw from Europe unless specific demands were met.
These included a 20-team European cup, tougher qualification for teams in the Pro12 and revenues being split differently.
But the latest developments seem of a different order from the threats that have been previously made, suggesting the ante is being upped and indicating clearly that the English are prepared to walk away from what is seen as the jewel of European rugby.
A statement from Premiership Rugby said: "The 2013-14 Aviva Premiership rugby season kicked off this weekend with our clubs having no clear view of new European competitions from next season onwards.
"The current European Rugby Cup competitions terminate at the end of this season after notice was served by the English and French clubs in June 2012.
"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 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."
The situation is a mess, with the Premiership clubs also having negotiated a unilateral TV contract for games involving themselves in the Heineken Cup.
ERC's board meets today, and the regions will hope there will be positive developments as they cannot afford to lose the Heineken Cup with all the consequences that would entail.
"It's pretty critical we keep it," said Ospreys' chief executive Andrew Hore.
"It's not just important financially. It's also provides great fixtures for everyone involved.
"The supporters enjoy it, the players do and so do the coaches.
"The southern hemisphere has nothing like it. They have tried to emulate it, but they haven't really managed to get there.
"We all know it isn't perfect.
"But it is still one of the most positive things in northern hemisphere rugby."