Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Euro Cup chief still hopeful of striking deal

Open mind: ERC boss Derek McGrath says deal can be done

The future of European club rugby's biggest and most prestigious competition, the Heineken Cup, has never been under greater threat.

That much was admitted by European Rugby Cup (ERC) chief executive Derek McGrath at yesterday's Irish launch of the 2013-14 tournament and its sister event, the Amlin Challenge.

But while conceding the danger to the competitions posed by England's Premiership clubs and their French counterparts from Ligue Nationale de Rugby, McGrath insisted that a negotiated solution can still be found.

Asked if European competition might cease when the current season ends, he replied: "There is a real threat – that has been laid down loud and clear by the English and the French clubs.

"But do we think that's in everybody's interests? No, we don't – even (those of) the English and French clubs because we don't believe they have a viable alternative which stacks up."

And recalling that a similar crisis existed in 1999 and again in 2007, he pointed out: "We've been here before and that's the important thing to remember. And there are new personalities sitting round our table who haven't been here before.

"The stakes have gone up; the tournament is much more valuable (now) all round. Our game has moved on, our competitions have moved on so there is more at stake for everybody.

"So yes, the danger is greater, but also the opportunities are greater. And if we get this right the success can build and the trajectory of growth the ERC has demonstrated, through the support of all its partners, is on an upward curve and we can satisfy all of the needs of all of the parties."

With ERC president Jean-Pierre Lux by his side, the organisation's CEO highlighted flaws in the tactics currently being deployed by the English and French clubs who, without the all-important backing of their parent Unions, are trying to replace the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge with a structure more to their liking if not necessarily that of the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Italian clubs.

Highlighting two major areas of dispute, McGrath pointed to a television deal negotiated by the English clubs with BT – in flagrant violation of the existing ERC agreement with Sky Sports – followed by the dissidents' ploy of then announcing a tournament to replace what currently exists.

"First was the BT deal which was announced before we began our discussions and then most recently the new alternative competition," he said.

"Neither proposal was put in front of their Union, which is the first point of call for us.

"Clearly then, for those involved in running the game, the governing aspect can only respond in one way which is to reject this, because there is no proposal.

"In terms of the most recent alternative and what has been said about the competition, (it) sounds like it's going to look pretty much like what exists today."

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