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Showdown talks planned to prevent Euro breakaway

The future format of European club rugby’s showpiece Heineken Cup competition and it’s secondary tournament, the Amlin Cup, will be discussed at a crucial meeting of the ERC’s shareholders in Rome on Monday.

England’s Aviva Premiership clubs and teams from France’s Top 14 are demanding major changes, their view being that with there being no relegation from the RaboDirect PRO12 — 11 of whom are involved in the Heineken Cup — clubs playing in that competition rest their top players in order to keep them fresh for the European tournaments.

The current make-up of the Heineken Cup — seven French clubs, six English, four Irish, three Welsh and two from both Scotland and Italy — reflects this, they say, adding that it is unfair also in monetary terms and fails to include the best 24 clubs in Europe.

The English have upped the ante by negotiating a private TV deal with BT, even though that is in contravention of ERC rules.

A meeting in Dublin on September 18 began “the process of agreeing a new Accord” but that remains a long way off.

At yesterday’s Heineken Cup/Amlin Cup launch in Dublin, ERC chief executive Derek McGrath played down fears that English teams could seek to break away from the competition and create their own version, leaving their Celtic counterparts behind.

“It is almost unthinkable that could happen,” said McGrath.

“I think everyone knows how important the tournament has become in every single country.

“It is not something we are focused on in any way. We have a two-year notice period for a reason, which is to allow us to understand where we might be going to.”

Refusing to rule out the possibility of awarding additional places to the English by taking them from PRO12 teams, McGrath underlined his commitment to keeping PRL clubs in the Heineken Cup.

And seeking to defuse talk of a crisis, McGrath added: “We are very early on in the process and are putting on the table what is up for discussion.

“There are no guarantees and that goes to any country. What we need to be very sure of is that every stakeholder is represented round the table.”

“We have a two-year notice period and there has been interest in trying to get this advanced.

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“Nobody more than I would like to have this sorted out, but we have to give it time.”

At the start of yesterday’s launch, the ERC offered their condolences on the death of Ulster centre Nevin Spence, his brother Graham and their father Noel, who died in a farming accident just over two weeks ago.

Those present at the Aviva Stadium watched a Sky Sports-compiled recording of the midfielder in Heineken Cup action.

The touching footage culminated with the then-20-year-old’s memorable ‘headstand try’ against Bath at The Rec on December 18, 2010.