ERC working to ensure Cardiff final not the last
Having hosted the inaugural Heineken Cup final, there are fears Cardiff could now host the last after winning the right to stage next year’s showpiece.
By Matt Lloyd, Cardiff
The Heineken Cup will return to its “spiritual home” at the Millennium Stadium next May but the future of the world’s biggest rugby club competition remains in grave doubt.
English and French clubs served notice in June 2012 that they would pull out of the tournament when the current accord ends after next year’s final and little has changed. The Six Nations and British & Irish Lions tours caused an impasse in discussions but pressure will now build on European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the organisers of the Heineken and Amlin Challenge cups, to broker a deal quickly.
English and French clubs, backed by huge domestic broadcasting deals, are pushing for wholesale change to the way the competitions are run. In particular they want the number of clubs to be cut from 24 to 20, qualification from all three leagues involved — Aviva Premiership, Top 14 and RaboDirect Pro 12 — to be based on finishing positions, and a new TV partner.
ERC chief executive Derek McGrath said: “There is a lot of stake for both sides — a lot to lose and a lot to win. But everybody wants it (H Cup) to continue and to get better.
“We can’t control what other things people are looking at. The deadline is here next May. We have to think of fans and have to think of our broadcasters and sponsors; the uncertainty isn’t good for professional sport.”
English and French clubs have agreed to a compromise involving qualification, accepting that a core principle of the Heineken Cup is that it is a six-country tournament.
One suggestion is that the top four in the Pro 12 would qualify automatically and the other two would be determined by nationality if necessary, to ensure Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales all have a representative.
However changes to qualification, particularly from the Pro12, must be implemented before, or soon after, the new season kick-off in September.
McGrath said: “There will be meetings and discussions going on and if we want to make certain decisions in advance of this season it gives us an opportunity to set out early what the qualification is for next year. As things stand it is going to be hard to see how we do it in such a short time, but it’s something we have to attempt.”
ERC will break new ground when they stage the first final in world rugby on a plastic pitch. Next year’s Amlin Challenge Cup will be played on Cardiff Blues’ new 4G surface, due to be completed next month.
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