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IRB enter Heineken Cup dispute

The International Rugby Board have entered the dispute over the future of the Heineken Cup by declaring their support for a European tournament.

English and French clubs, seeking structural, qualification and financial changes to the competition, have stated they will establish their own format next season that teams from other nations were welcome to join.

But IRB chief executive Brett Gosper, speaking on the subject for the first time, insists all European nations must be involved.

"Our clear position is we support a full European competition and our desire is it's a bona fide European competition," he said.

"We are urging all parties to get together and find a resolution because we obviously believe it is in the interests of rugby to have a strong European competition. It's good for the clubs and good for the unions.

"Hopefully they are in a negotiation, some say they are, some say they aren't, but certainly we believe in a European competition and will support that outcome as much as we can."

Representatives of the 12 Aviva Premiership clubs are convening at a routine meeting in London on Wednesday afternoon and Europe will dominate the conversation.

Among the talking points will be the decision by European Rugby Cup, who organise the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups, to hold the next round of negotiations on October 23.

The six-week wait for further discussions will have bemused Premiership Rugby, who have been frustrated by what they view as ERC's intransigence and are now no longer willing to work with the organisation.

The Rugby Football Union have been placed in a difficult position due to their interest in ERC and loyalty to the Premiership clubs, consequently adopting a careful public line that was maintained by chief executive Ian Ritchie on Tuesday.

Ritchie stated that any competition must include all European nations and is "optimistic" a compromise will be reached, but refused to "give up our negotiating position in public".

Gosper was speaking at the England 2015 two years to go milestone press conference in London. It is hoped that the World Cup will generate £151million that will be reinvested in the game.

England's World Cup-winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson has thrown his support behind the Heineken Cup, declaring its demise would be an "incredible shame".

Wilkinson kicked 11 points as Toulon edged Clermont 16-15 in last year's final in Dublin.

"It would be an incredible shame if we weren't able to compete in the Heineken Cup which is, effectively, the World Cup for European clubs," Wilkinson told the Evening Standard.

"Having fought like mad while at Newcastle and twice managing to get into the Cup, and reaching a quarter-final in Paris and having a couple of goes here at Toulon, it makes you realise what an event it is for northern hemisphere rugby.

"Going to the quarter-final, semis and the final with Toulon reminded me so much of that World Cup experience where you have media in the week and stadium visits.

"It's a fabulous thing and the more people who can experience it, the better.

"However, if there is unhappiness and unrest then it needs to be sorted out and long may the competition continue."

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