Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Progress made on format for Heineken Cup

Cup of joy: Ulster have enjoyed their Heineken Cup experience
Cup of joy: Ulster have enjoyed their Heineken Cup experience

After months of negativity following stalemate, claim and counter-claim, threats of withdrawal and boycott leading to fears over its very future, hopes have been raised that the format of a European Cup can be agreed.

Yesterday saw the Irish, English, Welsh, Scottish, French and Italian Unions, plus representatives of France's Top 14, England's Aviva Premiership, and the four Welsh regions meet for talks in Paris.

With the need to agree on the format and governance of a competition that could potentially replace the Heineken Cup now a matter of urgency, yesterday's brief post-meeting statement issued by the Six Nations committee which chaired the Paris summit appeared to offer some cause for optimism.

The 15-word statement read: "The meeting was constructive and progress made, with all parties working towards a European competition."

It now seems that the Six Nations committee may have the backing of all parties to continue setting up the new competition. If so, it would appear that European Rugby Cup (ERC) Ltd, the current owners and overseers of the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge tournaments, will be relieved of that control.

While the position of ERC remains unclear, the upbeat nature of the elsh Union's reaction to yesterday's meeting was seen as being particularly significant.

A WRU statement read: "The Welsh Rugby Union is pleased at the progress made at today's Six Nations meeting in Paris towards agreement for the European competition structure from next season.

"The WRU continues to remain confident that the progress now achieved will lead to a positive outcome for all stakeholders.

"The cautious optimism is based on a detailed structure of actions to be pursued immediately."

If, as now seems probable, the issue of governance can be settled, the next bridge to be crossed will be that concerning television rights.

England's Aviva Premiership clubs have entered into an agreement with BT Sport over screening rights for next season's European tournament, while ERC Ltd remains wholly committed to Sky.

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