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Heineken Cup
English clubs backtrack over Europe
ESPN Staff
November 29, 2013
It appears the Heineken Cup has been saved for another season © Getty Images
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Premiership Rugby's seemingly unwavering charge to form a breakaway European tournament for next season appears to be softening.

On Thursday, the Top 14 clubs voted in favour of staying in the Heineken Cup for another season with the decision striking a sizeable blow to PRL's resolve that it had no plans to play in a tournament run by European Rugby Cup Ltd next term.

Players and fans the victims of political posturing

  • For English clubs, it now comes down to a matter of pride and broadcasting deals. Their plans for the Rugby Champions Cup have been dashed by France's volte-face.
  • The intricate details of Premiership Rugby's deal with BT Sport are ambiguous though when they signed the contract back in September, BT Vision CEO Marc Watson said the deal gave them an "opportunity to own a sport". It is unlikely they will want to share their English clubs with Sky next season.
  • But before that becomes an issue and more tit-for-tat posturing occurs, PRL has to decide whether they will take a slightly embarrassing step backwards and play another season under European Rugby Cup Ltd. Expanding the Premiership or taking the game to South Africa would be a poor alternative to Heineken Cup rugby.
  • Money, corporate deals and saving face aside, who stands to lose out are the players and supporters if PRL maintains their anti-ERC stance and the English clubs are excluded from the Heineken Cup next term. You hope a compromise is found.
  • Tom Hamilton

Following the announcement, PRL has now indicated it may be willing to play in the Heineken Cup next term if there is an alternative tournament in place for 2015-16.

Paul Goze, the man in charge of the organisation that runs the Top 14, has insisted LNR's volte-face is not a sign of them ditching its Anglo allies but a means of buying time as they continue plans for a different tournament in 2015-16.

Goze said his organisation had not "gone into reverse gear" and that the French clubs would play in the Heineken Cup next term on two conditions. Firstly, the English clubs were also included in the tournament and secondly, that a new UEFA-esque body was formed to replace ERC in time for the 2015-16 season.

PRL has stated repeatedly that it will not work under the authority of ERC, but on Thursday night chief executive Mark McCafferty indicated it was willing to listen to the French proposal.

"If somebody can outline what that transition would entail, how the issues would be overcome and exactly what the new structure in 2015-16 would be, then we could look at it," McCafferty told Press Association Sport. "If we can see there is a new structure to replace ERC and we have the detail of that, then something might be feasible. At the moment it's all very general and difficult to comment on."

However, further muddying the waters is PRL's TV rights deal with BT Sport and although the terms of this are unknown, it is thought to preclude any involvement with ERC as Tigers chairman Simon Cohen has previously suggested.

According to reports in The Times, PRL are exploring other options if the Aviva Premiership teams are not in Europe next season. They include expanding the Premiership or potentially forming a club tournament with sides from South Africa.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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