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The future of European rugby
Heineken Cup play-offs key to new agreement
ESPN Staff
March 18, 2014
Could there be peace at last in Europe? © Getty Images
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European rugby's long-running dispute is likely to be settled in the coming days with the sign-off on a revised version of the Heineken Cup which will be worth up to £1 million for the winners. To add extra spice there will be a four-team play-off for the 20th and final spot in the competition.

The new tournament will feature six sides from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 and seven from the RaboDirect Pro12. The final slot will come from a play-off between the teams finishing seventh in the Premiership and Top 14 and those in eighth and ninth in the Pro12.

The late nature of the agreement means that the initial play-offs will only feature English and French clubs and be played on a home and away basis. This will provide a good pay-day for those involved even if they do not qualify.

A new third-tier competition is expected to run in September, from which two qualifiers would then take part in the second-tier tournament, to replace the Amlin Challenge Cup.

The settlement was agreed at a meeting in Paris on Monday and documentation is currently being drawn up.

Key to any progress is the broadcasting side of the deal, though recent reports suggest BT Sport and Sky Sports are close to finding a compromise over the television rights for a new tournament.

PA claims European Rugby Cup, the governing body of the Heineken Cup, will be wound up in the summer. A replacement body will be set up, with its name and the name of the new tournament yet to be finalised. The Six Nations committee is expected to provide the basis of the new governing body, with some ERC staff retained.

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