Jonathan Davies: We do play far too much, but we need this cup

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The Independent Online

Unless they are particularly insular and unimaginative, I can't imagine the clubs of any country believing the quality of their rugby would not be damaged by ditching the Heineken Cup.

The competition has added so much to the appeal of club rugby throughout Europe in a relatively short time and, apart from the interest generated, it raises the standard of the game.

Top players are bound to benefit from playing at a level that helps to bridge the gap between their domestic rugby and the international field. So I can only hope that the decision by French clubs, led by Serge Blanco, to rob next season's Heineken Cup of their presence is financial. If it is based on rugby it is mad.

Allowances have to be made for the fact that the World Cup is being staged in France this year, and they may be feeling a little hemmed in by all the intense rugby.

Since they don't make as much money as English clubs from the Heineken Cup, they can chop it from their congested calendar without great cost. And the sponsors of their national league will no doubt be grateful for the lack of a large rival competition.

If and when they return to the Heineken Cup they can negotiate a better deal and be happier. Perhaps they have started a trend and the cup will be postponed every World Cup year, or condensed into a smaller version.

I don't know what is on their minds but I do know that they have chosen a dangerous path. What if the English clubs decided to follow suit? Their fixture list is just as congested and maybe they would be better off concentrating on their own domestic issues. The Rugby Football Union would be happier. It would be the end of the Heineken Cup, certainly for next season. It would be a lively competition without the French, but without the English it wouldn't command enough attention.

Who knows, the next development could be the French and English clubs creating a cup competition just for themselves. It wasn't too long ago that we had the arrogant suggestion that the Six Nations should be split into two divisions because France and England were too powerful.

The last two years haven't done much for that theory. Neither does the domination by French and English clubs in the Heineken Cup look as unchallengeable as it once did. Both France and England would make a mistake if they retreated into their shells. The Guinness Premiership is a big competition, yet the style of rugby it encourages tends to produce intense but boring games.

The Heineken Cup breathes fresh challenges into the season and inspires more adventurous rugby, and I am sure fans everywhere are praying it will survive this threat to its future.

Whenever we get one country or one voice attempting to break the format of the season it puzzles me why there is such a lack of consultation between all interested parties.

Everyone agrees that the rugby season is in need of reform, but there is no concerted effort to find a solution acceptable to all. Players, clubs, countries, sponsors, broadcasters - there is an urgent need for everyone to work out a feasible remedy.

They all share the same ambition for rugby of better quality and less quantity. If that means cutting down the number of clubs in the top leagues, so be it. At the very least, it would strengthen the lower divisions.

It is dangerous when individual countries feel forced to take their own measures like France have done while everyone shares the same problem. The best route out of the mess would be the one they all take in unison.

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