Heineken Cup Final: Rights battle threatens to speed up European demise

Elite competition faces extinction unless rival unions can agree on reforms in next year

This evening Dublin will go Gallic for the final of the Heineken Cup. A French flavour is guaranteed for next year’s final too and it offers an appropriate full stop that the country will host what may prove the competition’s grand finale 18 years after Toulouse lifted the first trophy.

With every failed meeting and month that passes it becomes increasingly likely that next season’s Heineken Cup will be the last, certainly in its current format. It is nearly a year since English and French clubs gave their two-year notice; as of the full-time whistle of the 2014 final they will no longer be part of the European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC), the body that runs the Heineken and Amlin Cups.

There is no sign of an imminent entente cordiale between the parties, which is no surprise given the myriad of interested ones from the Home Unions to Premiership Rugby to the Ligue de Nationale de Rugby to the Italian and French Unions, to the ERC and the money men, Sky Sports and newcomers BT Vision, both of whom lay claim to broadcasting European rugby’s future.

Since a Thomas Castaignede-inspired Toulouse beat Cardiff in that first final in the Arms Park, the tournament has grown into club rugby’s signature event. Just under 22,000 were there in 1996; last year just under 82,000 were at Twickenham to see an all-Irish final. But as it has grown, so have the big two’s discontent with its structure and rewards.

The English and French clubs want reform or, they insist, they are gone. It is a split that English club rugby, buoyed by its £152m deal with BT, is prepared to buy. The French Top 14 too could survive the short-term financial loss of European competition. The rest would be damaged, the Irish least so the already struggling Welsh, Scots and Italians horribly. That is the worst-case scenario; the 2014-15 season will have no European competition.

English clubs have started planning for that eventuality with an expansion of the Premiership from 12 to 14 mooted along with a similarly expanded Anglo-Welsh competition. It is BT’s arrival that leaves Premiership Rugby in a position of strength. The money the clubs receive as part of the new domestic deal, which begins next season, at least matches what they currently receive for domestic and European duties.

BT is confident it will be the sole UK broadcaster of whatever European competition there is from 2014 onwards. ERC responded to BT’s English deal by agreeing a new one with Sky that runs until 2018. Both cannot come to air and Premiership Rugby insists TV is a non-negotiable part of the deal; BT or bust. It believes the notice served by French and English clubs on 1 June last year meant that ERC was in no position to agree a new deal with Sky last autumn.

There is deep dissatisfaction in Premiership Rugby, and in France, over the competition’s structure, although there have already been compromises in their demands which could be read as a sign there is recognition of the shortening timescale.

“All parties involved confirmed they seek resolution as soon as possible,” said a spokesperson for ERC yesterday. “While it has been several months since the last all stakeholder meeting, there have been numerous meetings between representatives over the past number of weeks.”

Premiership Rugby wants the Heineken Cup cut from 24 teams to 20, the Amlin Cup strengthened and a third-tier European competition introduced. It has scaled down its demands over qualification, now suggesting six qualifiers from the Pro12, the top four plus two based on nationality to ensure every country has one participant. That has not been well received by other stakeholders.

The Anglo-French also want a recalculating of the revenue. As it stands the Pro12 clubs share 52 per cent, while the English and French each take 24 per cent. The English and French want a straight three-way split. And if they do not get it, there is the growing prospect that European rugby will be split apart.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor