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'English and French clubs intend to quit Heineken Cup' - Premiership official

CEO Mark Cafferty says there needs to be a “level playing field” with regard to the qualification process.

Leinster win last year's competition.
Leinster win last year's competition.
Image: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

RUGBY CLUBS IN England and France have threatened to quit the Heineken Cup and begin a rival European competition.

The decision was made after clubs in the two countries agreed the competition’s existing format favoured clubs in the Celtic nations too heavily.

Irish provinces Leinster and Munster have won five of the last seven Heineken Cups between them, with clubs in England and France arguing this is partly due to the qualification system currently in place.

Premiership Rugby CEO Mark McCafferty believes the system allows clubs in the RaboDirect Pro12 competition to rest key players, making their qualification path in the Heineken Cup easier.

“Most of the Ireland squad will not be released for the Pro12 until rounds three or four, something they could not do if they depended on their finishing position in the league for European qualification,” he said.

The clubs in England and France have served two years’ notice that we intend to pull out of Europe because there needs to be a level playing field.”

Clubs in both countries believe no more than six Pro12 teams should be allowed to qualify, with McCafferty putting forward their suggestion for a new qualification system.

“Our view is that the qualification process needs to be changed so that it is entirely merit-based – the top teams in all three leagues as well as the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup should make up 20 sides taking part,” he said.

A spokesman from the European Rugby Council said talks were planned to take place in September in an attempt to resolve the issue.

“Notice was served by the French and English clubs and the French Rugby Federation at the beginning of June and it was agreed at a board meeting a few days afterwards that we would have a workshop in September after holding briefings with everyone.”

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