Cave keen to see swift Euro solution
Ulster and Ireland centre Darren Cave's love of the Heineken Cup dates from when he was an impressionable, fresh-faced schoolboy making his way to Ravenhill for those big European match days and nights.
Even now the competition has lost none of its appeal or magic. For him, it's the best club-level tournament in world rugby bar none.
So with negotiations as to its future going on behind closed doors, the 26-year-old is keen to see an amicable agreement on the Heineken Cup's future.
"There's been a bit of talk among us," he said. "Obviously the boys love it. Everyone in Ulster loves it. I remember going to watch it as a fan and I absolutely loved it. The fans love it, the players love it."
Hardly surprisingly, he has followed the debate closely. Less predictably, he understands the position of the English and French clubs who have threatened – unless there are changes – to withdraw and stage a tournament of their own.
"I understand why they have a problem," he said. "I think Edinburgh were the example a couple of years ago when they got to the semi-final and finished 11th in the league.
"I think the English and French teams have a right to question the qualification format. And if they are producing more revenues because they are bigger countries, then the money shouldn't be split four ways. I don't know what the answer is; that's why I'm a player and not an administrator. But I think they make a very valid point.
"I hope something is sorted out because it's a special tournament. There are times when it's maybe not as good to watch as Super Rugby because there are fewer tries and the weather means it's a wee bit less free-flowing, but I don't have any doubt that it's the best club-rugby competition in the world.
"I think it's absolutely fantastic and it would be a real, real shame if it was no more."
Colleague Declan Fitzpatrick agrees. The 30-year-old tight-head said: "It'll be interesting to see how it evolves. At this stage we're just looking at our season game on game, so we haven't been thinking about how next season's Heineken Cup might work out.
"But it's something we're aware of and hopefully they can get it sorted out because it's a fantastic competition.
"And it's not a bad idea to be looking at the format. If it's not working, maybe it needs changed, though it has been pretty successful for the Irish provinces so obviously the format is working for us at the minute.
"Maybe the English and French are looking at it differently and maybe we need to look at how they see things. But I don't think the European Cup is going anywhere – just maybe a different format."
Meanwhile Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has apologised to the RaboDirect PRO12 organisers for criticism of Italian referee Claudio Blessano following the NG Dragons v Ulster match at Rodney Parade on September 6.
* THE first round of negotiations to determine the future of the Heineken Cup will be held in Dublin on October 24, the ERC announced yesterday.
They also took the opportunity to remind stakeholders that under their direction the European club competitions have generated half-a-billion euro.