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Rip it up and start again might be best solution to Euro impasse

By Niall Crozier

While in Treviso with Ulster just before Christmas, I met a young gentleman who introduced himself by announcing that he thought he had a solution to the on-going Heineken Cup impasse.

Bemused by what appeared to be his total disregard for problems which continue to perplex and thwart most of the Six Nations' sharpest rugby brains and skilled negotiators, I invited him to share his insight.

At the outset his idea – scrap the RaboDirect PRO12, England's Aviva Premiership and France's Top 14 – seemed too revolutionary and radical to merit serious thought.

But then it struck me; isn't binning the PRO12 and the Premiership exactly what others with a much higher profile than Ulster Rugby supporter Adam Henderson are proposing? Okay, proceed.

His idea was that having done away with those three leagues, that would clear the way for a new season-long competition featuring all the teams from the RaboDirect Pro12, Aviva Premiership and Top 14.

He would then aim to spread rugby's net in Europe by introducing two more Italian teams, two more from Scotland, a pair from Spain, Portugal, Romania and possibly two from Russia and Belgium.

Teams then would be split into three or four pools of eight, with the top four in each pool progressing to the knock-out stage, culminating in a grand European final in May.

"I think it will be very sad for rugby if a great competition (the Heineken Cup) was lost," Adam said.

And I agree with him, but having listened to the Welsh regions put their case in a radio debate at the weekend – an event the Welsh Union boycotted, incurring the wrath of English bulldog Brian Moore – I fear they are determined to join up with the Aviva Premiership clubs in a new financially lucrative Anglo/Welsh League.

And what then for Ireland's provinces, Scotland's districts and the Italian franchises? Tellingly, that didn't merit a mention.

Whatever else happens, it now looks inevitable that this will be the last season of the Heineken Cup in its current format, too. Truly, a la Dylan, the times they are a-changing.

Yes, Adam Henderson's idea is a very rough diamond, but diamonds can be cut and polished. And though far from perfect, it has an admirable aspect at its core, namely a desire to bring people – including some very old friends – along rather than kick them into touch with an 'I'm alright, Jack' shrug.

From the day and hour money entered rugby, the game's soul began to change. To the point where clubs versus country is no longer an issue confined to football.

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