David Gantly talks about the worrying possibility of the Heineken Cup becoming obsolete, and the need for the Anglo-French breakaway to be rectified.
So the unthinkable has occurred. After the upcoming Heineken Cup season, this prestigious competition may be no more. Worrying times for European rugby fans. The Heineken Cup has brought many happy memories to its fans, serving up top quality rugby time and time again. Dedication. Excitement. Courage. Pride. All components associated with the Heineken Cup.
So why get rid of a tournament that for so long has been the highlight of the rugby season? It seems the English and French teams have become tired of dealing with the ERC and have decided to make their own brand new competition. Labeling it the Rugby Champions Cup, the tournament would consist of English, French, Italian and Celtic teams. The latter two have yet to agree to this invitation. The hope is that the Heineken Cup can be saved and the ERC have assured fans they are doing their utmost to make this happen. The English Premiership clubs look to have made their minds up however. They have already secured an agreement with BT Sport for the proposed tournament and are not interested in negotiations. They have already said they will not be attending an ERC meeting in Dublin on October 23-24. Because of the unsuccessful negotiations, a mediator has been brought in to try to rectify the situation.
If the Rugby Champions Cup was to come to fruition, Irish clubs may be left in a state of lingo as the IRFU have already issued a statement saying they will not allow the provinces to join the proposed competition. That would leave them to compete solely in the Rabo Direct Pro 12. As good a competition as the Rabo is, it is far from the heights of the Heineken Cup and this scenario is unthinkable.
Whether the proposed Rugby Champions Cup could breathe new life into the rugby scene has divided opinion. Some fans are curious regarding this new look competition while others believe it will not match the heroics of the Heineken Cup. This writer is of the latter side of the argument. Why fix something that isn’t broken? What if the new tournament is a failure? Where are we left then? It is time for the English and French clubs to swallow their pride and agree to stay put. Last season’s epic final between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne showed us just how much French sides have contributed to the Heineken Cup. Lets keep it that way.
The ERC Chief Executive Derek Mc Grath has announced today that he is confident of avoiding an Anglo-French breakaway tournament. He has his work cut out to make this happen. Negotiations over the next few weeks will be crucial. That the ERC are quietly confident of a positive solution is surprising considering the stance of the English and French clubs. Behind the scenes negotiations may appear to give a glimmer of hope for the ERC.
Players and coaches have already had their say on the matter with Munster second row Paul O’Connell expressing his concern at the possibility of the end of the Heineken Cup. Who could blame the Irish stalwart? Thomond Park is a special place on European Cup matchday and long may it continue. Munster and Leinster seem to relish playing in the Heineken Cup. That Munster got to the semi finals of the competition last year yet struggled in the Rabo Direct says it all really. It is something about the Heineken Cup that brings out the best in them. Leinster, three-time winners, have also set the standard in recent years. Ulster are also beginning to make their presence felt and no doubt would like this to continue. Who’s to say if they cannot offer Heineken Cup rugby that key foreign players such as South African scrum-half Ruan Pienaar won’t decide to depart. A player like that deserves to showcase his talents on the highest stage. Of course he is but one of many.
Next weekend the Heineken Cup returns. A chance for this fascinating competition to showcase what exactly will be missed if the unthinkable does happen. First-round fixtures such as Ulster vs Leicester and Edinburgh vs Munster will no doubt reinforce my point.
The Heineken Cup kicks off on the 11th of October. Let’s hope it’s not for the last time.
Sport Is Everything. Dave Gantly.
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