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ERC payment row rumbles on

Heineken Cup bosses hope shareholder power can force the release of overdue tournament appearance fees after a second board meeting in three weeks failed to break the impasse.

European Rugby Cup (ERC) again voted to delay a decision regarding the release of appearance payment instalments to its six shareholder countries at a board meeting in London on Wednesday.

The ERC board initially deferred a decision on the late payments in a Dublin meeting on February 5, and followed suit again on Wednesday.

Another board meeting has been set for March 11 - but crucially a shareholders' meeting has been called for March 10.

Despite more than three hours of wrangling in Wednesday's reconvened meeting, no tangible progress could be made.

The ERC board believes the shareholders may be able to force through the release of these payments, by ordering the directors to act, Press Association Sport understands.

The Welsh Rugby Union has had to bail out the four Welsh regions with emergency loans to ease cash-flow problems after these delayed payments.

English club body Premiership Rugby sought legal advice after ERC's first delay, and now consider this decision in breach of the current Heineken Cup agreements, which expire in the summer.

"We believe this is a fundamental breach of both the current accord and the participation agreement, and we will be taking legal advice around that," Premiership Rugby said in a statement released to Press Association Sport.

Tournament bosses are concerned about possible legal action should Sky lose out in the TV rights battle with BT Sport.

The Heineken Cup could well be replaced by a European Champions Cup run by the Six Nations committee next season, leaving ERC defunct.

The Dublin-based organisation has been poring over its potential liabilities for weeks now, should the company be wound up in the summer.

The ERC board has chosen to delay any decision still further, in the hope there can be a resolution to the Sky-BT battle, with the RFU still aiming to broker a compromise between the warring broadcasters.

Sky claim an ongoing European competition screening rights deal to run into next season, while BT have signed a deal with Premiership Rugby, the English clubs' governing body.

The ERC shareholders are the six unions of England, France, Ireland, Italy, Wales and Scotland, and France club body the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR).

Representatives from all six unions attended Wednesday's ERC board meeting, with Premiership Rugby and the LNR also holding a presence.

Regional Rugby Wales, the body representing Wales' four regional sides, have not replaced Stuart Gallagher on the ERC board since his December resignation and held no presence at Wednesday's meeting.

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