Belfast Telegraph

Ulster boss Anscombe upbeat on future of Heineken

By Steven Beacom

Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan is confident the future of the Heineken Cup can be agreed to everyone's satisfaction.

The competition, in its present format, will cease to be after the May 2014 final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium and with the big-moneyed clubs in England and France having threatened to pull away and launch a new tournament, the race is on to avoid a situation where they opt go it alone.

Already there have been intense negotiations, with claim and counter-claim ensuing. But amid fears as to the future of the Heineken Cup and its sister tournament, the Amlin Challenge, Ulster's CEO (pictured) is confident that a parting of the ways can be averted.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are committed to playing in the Heineken Cup and are optimistic that a solution will be found that works for all major parties and takes the competition forward.

"We would be very optimistic that the right solution will be found and, actually, isn't that far away. Minds are concentrating on that."

The possibility of the Heineken Cup's demise has been a source of deep concern throughout Ireland which has produced winners in five of the past eight seasons and an all-Irish final in May 2012, when Leinster and Ulster met before a capacity crowd of 82,000 at Twickenham.

Logan's optimism will come as sweet music in the ears of the province's army of rugby devotees.

Last week saw the English and French clubs seemingly aligned on one side of the divide, with Ireland's four provinces, Scotland's two districts, Wales's quartet of regions and Italy's brace of franchises – all RaboDirect PRO12 participants - on the other.

The four PRO12 countries' teams are being represented by their home unions. Thus the case for Ulster – like that of Leinster, Munster and Connacht – is being presented by the four provinces' parent body, the Irish Rugby Football Union, whose representatives have been involved in on-going, heavy-duty discussions aimed at saving European club rugby's premier tournament.

Despite earlier hard-balling by Ligue Nationale de Rugby and Premiership Rugby, a statement by the ERC – the Heineken Cup organisers – following a meeting of stakeholders 24 hours later in Dublin's Westbury Hotel suggested that parties in France and England had re-affirmed their commitment to reaching a new Accord after all.

In other words, on-going participation in the Heineken Cup, albeit a modified.version of it , had yet to be agreed.

That ERC statement made it plain that any new European tournament featuring participants from two or more nations would require the approval of the IRB and the unions of the countries involved. That meant the big English and French clubs could not go it alone to form a breakaway Anglo-French tournament.

The ERC's statement read: "Despite recent reports all parties involved in the formulation of a new ERC Accord, including the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR) and Premiership Rugby, have reaffirmed their commitment to the process.

"A meeting focused solely on the negotiations will be convened by ERC as soon as practicable."

But that was followed by statements by Leicester Tigers chairman Peter Wheeler, Toulouse's René Bouscatel and Saracens chairman Nigel Wray

Wray insisted the Premiership and Top 14 sides were keen to establish a new competition to be run by the clubs rather than the unions, while Wheeler – a board member of the ERC – said: "No decision was made by the ERC board to reiterate that European club rugby competitions must necessarily be organised by ERC.

"Secondly, concerning the proposal of some of this board to organise a meeting of the stakeholders, it is the sole right of the individual parties (unions and league organisations) to take a view on any such proposal."

But responding in his capacity as ERC chief executive, Lux's interpretation was a no-nonsense: "Together we confirm that it was agreed at last Wednesday's Board meeting in Dublin that ERC, as a signatory to the current Accord, should be involved in all future negotiations aimed at the formulation of a new Accord for the 2014/15 season and beyond.

"To that end, the Board requested that ERC should convene the next, and future, meetings and that it should consider the appointment of a mediator to move the negotiations forward towards a successful resolution. This process is now under way.

"The Board further agreed that bearing in mind the commitments the company has already entered into, no other structure other than ERC would be appropriate to organise European tournaments going forward.

"We believe it is now time for ERC's shareholders to cease public ultimatums and to enter into genuine and decisive negotiations aimed at strengthening European club rugby.

"A date for the next Accord meeting will be announced shortly."

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph