Belfast Telegraph

Penney sure compromise will be found

By Conor George

A European club competition without Irish representation is inconceivable, according to Munster coach Rob Penney.

The statement issued by the English clubs outlining their plans to form a new competition with their French counterparts and "invite" involvement from other nations, has thrown the future of the Heineken Cup in doubt.

The competition in its current guise is likely to have to be changed, but Penney is confident a solution will be found to the impasse – "they won't throw the baby out with the bathwater" – and believes those charged with finding that solution will do so in the best interests of the competition.

"It is in everyone's interest that the European Cup continues," stated Penney.

"The promotion, publicity and prestige associated with the competition and the player development that comes with a great elite competition like the European Cup is to the benefit of everyone and every club."

No matter what happens next season, Penney is adamant that Irish inclusion is crucial to the success of a European club competition, in whatever guise.

"It would be remiss not to look back at the history and the impact Irish rugby teams have had on the Heineken Cup over the years," he said.

"Nothing lasts forever. The professional game has only been around for a short period of time and there is a lot of adjustment to be made before we get longevity in terms of stability.

"But as long as people have the best interest of the game in the forefront of their thinking when competitions are been developed, then that's a good starting point."

Penney believes that whatever competition is in place for the 2014/15 season will bear striking resemblances to the current one.

"The competition is too important to Europe for anyone to want to establish something brand new," he said.

"Whatever happens, it will still be a great competition. The people who are moving and posturing understand how important it is and they won't be willing to undermine that in any way."

Penney flies to Italy today with a 33-strong squad and will hold a training camp in Lake Garda in between Pro12 matches against Zebre and Treviso.

He will use the time to finalise his Heineken Cup roster ahead of next Thursday's deadline to register the 38-man squad.

Neither Paul O'Connell nor Conor Murray will travel – "their involvement from the first day with the Lions has them on a different pre-season schedule" – but everyone else who is fit is included in the travelling party.

Meanwhile, Heineken Cup chiefs claim all parties – including Premiership Rugby and their French counterparts – have "reaffirmed" commitment towards negotiations regarding a new tournament agreement.

It follows a meeting of European Rugby Cup directors in Dublin yesterday, when attendees included Premiership Rugby's Peter Wheeler and Rene Bouscatel, of France's Ligue Nationale de Rugby.

Two days ago hours ago, English and French clubs announced plans for an alternative competition next season. They served notice last year of their intention to quit the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup when an existing agreement expires next summer.

They want changes to the structure of both competitions, over the number of teams, qualifying and how funds are distributed.

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