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Heineken Cup
Celtic nations set to resist euro changes
ESPN Staff
July 8, 2012
Martyn Thomas, Twickenham, England, September 7, 2010
Former RFU chairman Martyn Thomas has revealed that resistance is growing to a proposed shake-up of the European landscape © Getty Images
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Premiership Rugby's hopes of forcing a re-vamp of the Heineken Cup have been dealt a blow by reports that resistance to the proposed changes is growing.

English rugby chiefs and their French counterparts, the Fédération Francaise de Rugby (FFR) and the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR), have all recently served notice on European Rugby Cup Ltd (ERC) in a move that will possibly see them leave the competition in two years time should a new agreement not be signed.

The move was intended to force a debate on the future of Europe's premier club competition with the Anglo-French partners hoping to force a number of changes including the reduction of the number of clubs in the competition from 24 to 20 with the top six from their leagues and the RaboDirect PRO12 plus the defending champions and the Amlin Challenge Cup winners qualifying for the competition.

European rugby bosses have since initiated a review of the structure and format of both the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup but according to Martyn Thomas, the former Rugby Football Union chairman and ex-director of ERC, their calls for a radical overhaul are unlikely to secure enough support to trigger changes.

"The Celtic Unions have made a pact that this time they will not roll over in the face of any threats," he told The Rugby Paper. "If they keep their nerve when the going gets tough, the French and English clubs will be forced to back down.

"The Welsh, Irish and Scottish Union are determined not to give in. If the English and French clubs don't back down and walk away from the tournament, the Celts will say: 'That's a shame but if you don't want to play in the Heineken Cup as we know it and love it, tough'.

"It's all about brinkmanship. The top English and French clubs are power crazy. They are driven by a join belief that they are the people who command the most money from television for live coverage. That rather flies in the face of the fact that five of the last six teams represented in the last three finals did not come from England. Despite that, they have no regard for the revenue generated by Welsh, Irish and Scottish teams."

He continued: "Like most things in professional sport, this is about money and the English and French teams want more. They may dress it up in all sorts of ways but that's the reality. There will be some tough times ahead."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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