The interminable row over the future of the Heineken Cup, finally reaching its conclusion after the top-flight clubs in England and France confirmed the setting up of a new cross-border tournament to be launched in a year's time, took another of its peculiar twists – some would say "hilarious" – when the organisers of the current competition claimed that all interested parties had reaffirmed their commitment to the negotiation process.
In a statement following today's board meeting in Dublin, a European Rugby Cup spokesman expressed "surprise" at the timing of the Anglo-French announcement, insisted that all European tournaments "must be organised by ERC", and to all intents and purposes rubbished reports of the imminent breakaway. This account of the situation was not recognised by the Premiership clubs, who indicated that while they were willing to talk to anyone interested in joining the new competition, they had no intention of sticking with the old one.
Indeed, the Saracens chairman Nigel Wray said the new venture was "inevitable", adding: "Under the current structure, the two nations – France and England – who provide the vast majority of revenues are permanently out-voted by the four other nations [Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales]. In that system, you have to leave if you want change. That is what we are doing."
Wray reiterated that the Premiership clubs and their partners across the Channel wanted teams from the Celtic countries and Italy to join them in the freshly minted competition, which would have no input whatsoever from ERC. "We hope it will generate more revenue and be better run than the current tournament," he said. "This is hugely important to the clubs."
ERC said it intended to "facilitate discussions" between the various Heineken Cup stakeholders. It may well be too late.