English RFU retains hope Heineken Cup can be saved

The English Rugby Football Union (RFU) is confident European competition can be salvaged for next season, with chief executive Ian Ritchie warning the alternative would be vastly inferior.

The future of the Heineken Cup is in grave doubt with England’s clubs refusing to participate in a competition run by European Rugby Cup (ERC) and actively pursuing the option of adding Welsh regions to an expanded Aviva Premiership.

Ritchie is optimistic that the obstacles preventing an agreement on a new tournament involving all six competing nations — framework, voting on commercial rights and broadcasting rights — can be overcome.

Unofficial talks between the RFU and the other five unions are taking place on a daily basis, with Twickenham officials ignoring the snub that resulted in exclusion from a key meeting in Dublin on November 21.

It was during those discussions last month that progress previously made in deciding on aspects such as format, financial distribution and notice terms were effectively torpedoed by the other unions.

Ritchie is convinced there is still a “deal to be done” as he seeks to prevent the disintegration of European rugby that would inevitably accompany the formation of an Anglo-Welsh league.

“We must understand the consequences of failure — they are not a good thing,” Ritchie said. “All parties want to get a pan-European competition. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want that. Everyone wants it, the question is how we get there. We owe it to the fans, players and everybody involved in rugby to make sure we get this agreed.

“All of us have an obligation to bust a gut to reach an agreement.

“We need to get in a room as a matter of urgency and get proper, focused discussions to agree on the outstanding matters.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to do because the prize of getting it right is infinitely preferable to the alternatives.”

The key battleground in the dispute is ERC’s involvement and should the RFU persuade its counterpart unions that it should be replaced, the main stumbling block to staging European competition next season will have been removed.

Prior to the meeting on November 21, a consensus emerged that the Six Nations should succeed ERC with the English and French clubs accepting it as the alternative.

Critically, however, the French Rugby Federation is unconvinced by that option.

Ritchie’s belief is that if reconciliation can be reached on the framework and commercial voting rights, the battle between broadcasters Sky and BT Sport can be resolved.

He also dismissed the suggestion the RFU is in thrall to Premiership clubs, pointing out that its agreement over the release of England players expires in 2016.

“It’s essential for the good of the game that the RFU and PRL (Premiership Rugby Limited) have a good and strong relationship.

“This idea we’re cowed in some way because we’re worried about access to players for the World Cup is rubbish.”


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