Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Cardiff could host last Euro finals

The Millennium Stadium will host next season's Heineken Cup final

European Rugby Cup chief executive Derek McGrath is confident the Heineken Cup has a long-term future, but insists the time for "rhetoric" is over.

On Wednesday, ERC confirmed Cardiff will host the finals of next season's two major European club competitions. The Millennium Stadium will host the Heineken Cup final on Saturday, May 24, with the Amlin Challenge Cup final being played at Cardiff Arms Park the previous evening.

The decision comes after the French Rugby Federation (FFR) withdrew Paris as host city due to concerns over the availability of the Stade de France. But, as it stands, the May finals will be the last of their kind due to the ongoing dispute over the sporting and commercial arrangements of European competition.

The English and French clubs have served notice they will pull out of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup when the existing participation agreement ends in May 2014; unless changes are made to the way the two competitions are run.

They want to see the Heineken Cup reduced to 20 teams and for qualification from the RaboDirect Pro12 to be more meritorious that the current system, where a specific number of teams from each nation are guaranteed places regardless of league placing.

Furthermore, the two sides are also in dispute over the way commercial gains are split and two different television deals currently exist for the 2014-15 season and beyond.

ERC has agreed a new deal with Sky Sports, while the English clubs have an agreement with BT Vision to cover Aviva Premiership sides in European competition - something ERC argue contravenes International Rugby Board rules that only unions can negotiate broadcast deals.

The issue is becoming increasingly pressing, particularly with the new season closing in and sides in the RaboDirect Pro 12 unaware of what will be required of them to qualify for whatever form of European competition exists after the end of the forthcoming campaign.

But McGrath insists a resolution will be found by next May's final deadline, although further talks are unlikely to take place before September.

He said: "The responsibility we have is to encourage everybody to focus on what it is we are trying to achieve and the needs of European rugby. We can't really control what other things people are looking at. The deadline is here in Cardiff next May.

"We have to think of the fans and we have to think of our broadcasters and sponsors as well, the uncertainty isn't good for professional sport if we we are not able to explain where we are going. It is very important that all of our stakeholders focus on that. I am confident, more than confident it (the Heineken Cup) will still be here (after the end of this season)."

But the Irishman wants all sides to understand compromise will be required to secure the future of a competition which has rapidly become the envy of the global game.

He said: "The reality is we want to find an agreement which will be in the interests of European club rugby, but then it has also got to work for each of the six countries, individually and collectively. If we don't find that, we are not going to get something which is possible for each of those six countries.

"What we are looking for is move away perhaps from what we have had in recent times, which is rhetoric. We need to get around the table with all the stakeholders ready to engage in discussion and to recognise that everybody is going to have to give in order to find accommodation, which is the history of these discussions.

"I understand there are strong positions and there is a lot of stake for both sides - a lot to lose and a lot to win.

"When we have been through this before we have clearly had the same situations where there is a variety of positions adopted, but everybody, and it will continue to be the case, wants it to continue and to get bigger and better. There is no doubt about that."

Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis, meanwhile, believes top level European club competition is something the game cannot afford to lose.

"It's too good to lose," he said. "The bottom line is - no-one is awash with dosh in rugby. No-one. That's why everyone must come to their senses with a solution. Everyone in the game in Europe needs this competition. First for rugby and second for finance. I think we will all come to our senses and make sure this competition continues."

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