Nigel Wray expects clubs to pull out of Europe
September 7, 2013
Saracens reached the Heineken Cup semi-final last year, but it looks like they will only have one more opportunity to win the sought after trophy © Getty Images
Saracens chairman Nigel Wray has conceded he expects there will be no English clubs in the Heineken Cup next season.
As things stand, the 2013-14 Heineken Cup will be the last in the tournament's current guise. The English and French clubs have served notice to European Rugby Cup Ltd to leave both the Heineken Cup and the second tier Amlin Challenge Cup after this season unless the tournament structure and commercial arrangements are re-vamped. The PRO12 sides have so far refused to concede any ground on either issue.
Premiership Rugby, the umbrella body representing English rugby's top clubs, and their French counterparts Ligue Nationale de Rugby want the Heineken Cup reduced to a 20-team tournament - from the current 24-team format - and a change to the qualification system that they believe favours the PRO12 teams by guaranteeing places regardless of league position at the end of the season.
Adding further fuel to the dispute is a row over the TV rights to European club rugby's premier competition. ERC has a deal in place with current broadcast partner Sky Sports while Premiership Rugby have sold the rights to those games played by their club to BT Vision.
Despite prolonged negotiations, the Unions are still at an impasse and Wray says the clubs may have to pull out of the European tournament "in order to create a change".
"Do I think there will be a hiatus where the English clubs don't play? Yes I do. But I hope not," Wray told the Telegraph. "There has to be a real threat because if you are permanently outvoted you have to change the system. I am not complaining because it was the unions who set it [ERC] up, it was their idea and their tournament.
"All we are saying is we are not going to play under those rules, which we are entitled to do. It has to change otherwise the English and French clubs will be permanently outvoted. We want a much fairer share of the cake.
"My personal view is that the English clubs would be crazy if they accepted the current deal because we are permanently outvoted by nations that aren't contributing a lot of money. Sometimes you have to leave the room in order to create a change. I am sure there will still be a European Cup, but as to who will be in it, I don't know."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Download ESPN's new UK multisport app, a fresh and powerful new way to follow your favourite UK sports news, scores and video.
Following the passing of Jack Kyle, Huw Richards pays tribute to arguably the finest player Ireland has produced
"When Mike Burton was sent off I thought the world had gone crazy - just Pommy bashing, hitting anyone." Behind the Rose heads back to 1975
The time for tinkering is over - England must nail their colours to the mast in key positions, writes Phil Vickery
"New Zealand-born Joe Schmidt has forged the Irish into a street-smart, well- prepared side," John Mitchell on the Irish renaissance