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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heineken Cup debate with Conor O'Shea, Shane Horgan and Donal Lenihan

The future of European club rugby competitions is unknown at this stage. The Heineken Cup is in serious doubt, but where to from here? Conor O'Shea, Shane Horgan and Donal Lenihan discuss the crisis and look at ways that is can be resolved.

Negotiations and discussions will take place in Dublin on 23 October, with all signatories of the current European club rugby Accord to attend. ERC will facilitate the process across a range of points of difference, such as the share of central revenues, qualification criteria and format.

The involvement of all parties in ERC's make-up is as vital now as it was in the early days of the organisation. The only forum which can provide the platform for all-party negotiation under the Accord is the ERC forum and any attempt to ambush or denigrate the discussions is clearly not in the best interest of these great European tournaments.
 
"More than one year has passed since notice was served on the Accord and no proposal to date has received sufficient support to provide the basis for progress," said ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath.

"This should not be seen as insurmountable, as agreement on European tournaments has always required compromise with an acceptance that no party will secure everything on their wish-list.
 
"The only way we ever made progress in previous Accord negotiations was by serious engagement on the part of all ERC decision-makers. The same positive approach is required now and it is hoped that all signatories to the Accord will dedicate their energy to the renewed process."

The Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup tournaments are owned and run by ERC,  a company set up by the six main European unions which is recognised by the IRB as the organiser of  the pre-eminent cross-border club competitions in northern hemisphere rugby.

Posted at 11:10 am | 25 comments

Viewing 25 comments

DanKnapp September 19, 2013 11:15 am

I love stuff like this. Thanks RD, this sort of clip isn't something I'd find on my own. Cheers.

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RobbieC September 19, 2013 11:26 am

Great clip, didn't get to see it when broadcast here.

Hope all sides can come to an agreement, it would be a travesty to lose the HEC. It's brought us (Munster) some of our greatest days, not to mention the impact it has economically on Limerick on a match weekends. Great days and nights out meeting fellow rugby fans from across Europe. I'm sure the same goes for any city or town that hosts HEC games. There's a lot of stakeholders in the general public in this too.

Greed is an awful thing, would be a shame to see rugby go down the soccer route, which it seems like it's veering towards.

The Rabo needs to sort out the qualifying process, but I think the English and French are deluded if they think an Anglo-French tournament will work. The French don't send over full teams here as is.

Some mess, but I hope it gets sorted

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MatthewA September 19, 2013 11:51 am

Bottom line is they said "bottom line" every 10 seconds

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Mitch September 19, 2013 12:16 pm

I like the idea of seven english and seven french teams with at least one italian and one scottish side, it will ensure that the italian and the scottish clubs are working hard to at least be in that one designated spot.

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Nate September 19, 2013 11:56 pm

I agree with that. I think 1 Scottish and 1 Italian should auto qualify for the H cup and the lower of the teams in the Rabo for the amlin. Edinburgh has played dreadfully in the league and shouldn't be in the H cup this year (Scot fan btw) but reaching the semi final of the H cup the season before justified the need for a Scottish team in the competition I believe. Same goes for Italian teams especially Trevisio who play some pretty good rugby and Zebre are getting there.

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Conman September 19, 2013 2:47 pm

Disgraceful power grab by the English and French clubs. The IRB need to be very careful here in how they let this situation develop. Who knows perhaps the IRB will be next on their hitlist after they dismantle the ERC? Are the RFU and FFR now completely impotent?

The reduction of the number of teams to 20 is simply a case of wanting a bigger slice of the pie. It will mean not only will the money be spread around less teams but it will increase the chances of more of their teams being involved in the quarters (3 from 5 second place qualifiers). Note the Irish and Welsh don’t seem to upset about this either!

I take COS’ point that developing teams in the Amlin may be better for them in the long run but that would only be true if the funds are split properly so that you don’t create a two tier system. (Look at the example of the parachute payments for relegated teams in the EPL, allowing Championship teams to come up and compete without fear of going bust or not spending and getting destroyed like Derby only getting 11 points one year).

I’m not necessarily against merit based qualification but I do believe that it is not in the interests of the game to have a situation where one country is excluded for one to potentially many years from the main European competition. We’re supposed to be developing rugby globally not stuffing the already rich coffers of the English and French clubs.

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Reality September 19, 2013 7:07 pm

I think O'Shea's point about developing teams in the Amlin is absolute nonsense. Until the rules were changed to allow the best-placed Heineken teams to go straight to the Amlin quarter-finals, nobody gave a damn about that competition. Sending the weakest teams in the Heineken Cup to the Amlin, and not sending any more Heineken teams, will mean that we'll all go back to not caring about the Amlin Cup. So not only will people lose their reasons to support the teams, and not only will the teams obviously lose money for their development, but they'll go from challenging themselves against the best to playing against teams even weaker than themselves - hardly a good way to develop.

For example, Italy are allowed to join the Six Nations, then they're allowed to join the Celtic League, where they play against teams much better than them, and now they're showing real progress and actually beating the previously superior teams. Argentina are allowed to join the Tri-Nations and they've gone from being nobodies that get the occasional surprise win to being a really good team that can regularly challenge the very best. Would relegating Argentina and Italy to the B-competitions help them now? Obviously not.

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Ash October 01, 2013 1:06 pm

Argentina went from being nobodies? They reached the semi-final of a world cup BEFORE they joined the rugby championship. They also recorded wins against every team in the northern hemisphere BEFORE joining the championship. Argentina earned their place in that competition. It was not handed to them lightly. Also, they developed their game in the churchill cup, which enabled them to develop new players without getting destroyed. I suggest Argentina had their equivalent to the Amlin and it served them well. That said, 1 scottish and 1 italian team in heiniken cup sounds fair.

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Colombes September 19, 2013 6:00 pm

as a french fan, i'm far opposed to the creation anglo-french competition.
ERC is facing an hard decision: reinforce the traditional rugby forces or develop rugby to others countries like italy, belgium, spain, romania, even russia.
I fear the ERC will turn in a soccer model made by and for the richs...

It doesn't also mean that all anglo-french conditions are bad, but it shouldn't just be based on tv rights.

In a certain way, in a 18/20 teams hcup, i don't think france and english would be annoyed to just have 6 (even 5) clubs involved with a correct tv rights renegociation.
In fact, the key will come from the rabobank league. If this league can become more competitive and credible, and not just be a training camp before hcup weekends, things would be maybe easier to discuss.

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Reality September 19, 2013 6:55 pm

I'm glad that someone French/English is at least being reasonable about this whole thing, but I have to say, I don't understand why French and English people look down on the Pro 12 so much. The fact of that matter is that the Pro 12 has much better teams in it than the Top 14 and the Premiership. Most teams in those two leagues are absolutely terrible, Zebre-standard, so to claim it's a weaker league just doesn't make sense. Yeah, the Pro 12 teams treat the Heineken Cup as being more important and therefore if they need to rest players they use the domestic league, but I don't see why that's a bad thing. They're being punished for treating the Heineken Cup as being important, whereas most French teams use it as a way to rest their players so they can concentrate on the Top 14. The teams that actually care about the Heineken Cup are going to suffer.

As well, Scottish teams have done quite well in the H-Cup in the last few years, and so has Treviso, so I don't see why they're seen as the clubs holding the H-Cup back.

In any case, I think the statistics speak for themselves (this isn't to you Colombes, but to anyone who's reading). Two countries currently occupy 58% of the spaces available in the competition, while four countries occupy 42%. If the English and French teams get their way then two countries will have 66% of the spaces and four countries will have 33%. That doesn't seem at all fair to me.

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MusAmru September 19, 2013 8:02 pm

The French and English teams do care about the Heineken Cup competition, but since they have a competitive league to think about as well, they have to think about resting players. The Italian and Scottish teams have absolutely no need to play well in their league and they will still qualify for the Heineken Cup, while the English and French have to battle it out in their domestic leagues for qualification (not to mention possibly fighting relegation, which Pro12 doesn't have), all the while balancing the fact that they are playing in the Heineken Cup itself.

Stats only ever give a fraction of the picture. Look at it this way, currently, of all the possible teams that can qualify, 50% of all English teams in the Premiership, 43% of french teams in the Top 14, 75% of Irish teams, 75% of Welsh teams, and 100% of both Scottish and Italian teams qualify. So yes, the stats speak for itself, where it obviously favours non-Anglo-French teams. I'm just mentioning this because I want to show that stats can be used to make any side of the argument look good.

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TotesMcGoates September 19, 2013 11:51 pm

Good point. Never thought of it that way.

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fastmongrel September 19, 2013 6:40 pm

I havent heard anyone mention Wales yet. Welsh Rugby is struggling in the regions which were set up to play in Europe. No HEC and I can see Newport both Scottish teams and Connaught disappear quite quickly

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Stephem September 19, 2013 8:47 pm

I don't really get why everyone's focussing on who's wrong and who's not negotiating. A solution is much more paramount. To me, a blindingly obvious compromise would be to make the bottom two current rabo qualifiers play off against the best english & french non qualifier, and a slight change in the revenue split. The 6 pool format is one of the things that helps make the cup what it is, and these playoffs won't have to add a game if they're played at the same weekend as the rabo/aviva final and top14 semis. The main stumbling block is the two tv deals, which is a complete farce

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TotesMcGoates September 20, 2013 12:11 am

I personally think Lenihan nailed it; 7 French and English teams, and one from each Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales and the four best of the rest in the Pro-12 plus the Amlin and Heineken winners from the previous year.

Qualifiers are another great idea, it works for the Champions League pretty well.

Looking at this year's draw, there are 11 of the Pro 12 teams in the draw, the ten seeded teams plus Leinster as the Amlin champs. This is in contrast with 7 French (Toulon as Heineken winners) and 6 English. It seems to be a bit askew.

As the guys said, it's going to take some big men to negotiate and compromise for a fair deal that benefits the game.

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ConnachtMan September 20, 2013 1:21 pm

The HCup is worth €500 Million and the IRB WILL veto any attempt to set up a breakaway league, sabre rattle all they like but no one wants to kill the golden goose. the HCup is the main competion to keep the standards up in N.hemisphere. The IRB need a strong N.hemisphere to attract punters for the World Cup.

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Sharkie September 20, 2013 2:04 pm

...All I have to say are they are just whining. If the Scottish or Italian or Irish teams want to win the heineken. They have to keep their stars and develop them and build their team to be better

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BabaReilly September 21, 2013 8:54 pm

I don't really get your point,what are the Celtic teams whining about?....seeing as Irish teams have won the competition 5 times of the last 7 is because they hold onto their stars and home grown talent that came through their academies.

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Donnchadh September 20, 2013 4:36 pm

I think that Donal Lenihan's solution could keep all sides happy:
1) If seven teams qualify automatically from each league (in the Rabo at least one from each union); and
2) one additional automatic qualification spot would go to the league in which the winner of the Heineken Cup plays (e.g. the Top 14 since Toulon won the HC last year, thus Bayonne would hypothetically get this position). That's 22 automatic spots.

Then I think there should be a qualification playoff:
The teams involved in this would be:
1) Team from Aviva Premiership
2) Team from Top 14
3) Team from Rabo Direct
4) the winner of the Amlin (or where the winner already has automatic qualification, the spot would go to the league of the winner, e.g. the Rabo since Leinster won the Amlin last year, thus Cardiff would get this spot)
I would suggest a straight-forward draw between these four teams so that a semi-final-esque set up is created whereby two teams will qualify from the four. The ties could be done on a home and away (aggregate score) basis similar to World Cup qualification procedure.

Example Based on last year's results:
1) Automatic Spots
Aviva (7): Saracens; Leicester; Harlequins; Northampton; Gloucester; Exter; Bath.
Top 14 (8): Clermont; Toulon; Toulouse; Castres; Racing; Montpellier; Perpignan; Bayonne (qualify because Toulon won the HC)
Rabo (7): Ulster; Glasgow; Scarlets; Treviso (top teams from each union) and Leinster; Ospreys; Munster.

2) Qualification Play-off
a) London Wasps (8th in Aviva Premiership)
b) Biarritz (9th in the Top 14)
c) Connacht (8th in Rabo)
d) Cardiff (because Leinster won the Amlin and therefore extra spot goes to Rabo League).
Hypothetical draw: Wasps v Connacht and Biarritz v Cardiff.

Any modifications or suggestions are welcome....

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BatonRouge September 21, 2013 6:40 pm

I like this format but I'm just hoping it wouldn't become too convoluted. Also, just to clear up some confusion on my part, wouldn't top four from Rabo have to automatically qualify? Otherwise, because of the playoffs, the Rabo champion may not qualify, eg Leinster finish 4th behind Munster, Ulster and Ospreys but win the playoffs.. it's possible!

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Calvaganzer October 01, 2013 12:37 pm

This suggestion is definitely on the right tracks. My idea is similar, but personally I think it should open to other countries in the ENC.

So qualification should be:

1) Top 6 From Top 14
2) Top 6 From Aviva Premiership
3) Top 6 From Rabodirect

So that's 18 teams, 6 places left.

Then the following enter qualification playoffs.

1) 7 - 12 in the Top 14
2) 7 - 11 plus newly promoted in Aviva
3) Bottom 6 in the Rabo
4) The champion club from each country in the ENC 1A

And the qualification would look like this?

All matches two legged on a home and away basis.
Semi Finals:

Team from 1 VS Team from 2
From from 3 vs Team from 4

Final for Heineken (or whatever it will be called) place:
Winners of the semis
Runner up enters Amlin


So for an example, if you base it on last years results. One of the semis could look like this:

Bordaeux vs Bath
Lelos Tbilisi vs Zebre

Final (Hypothetically)
Bath vs Lelos Tbilisi
Winner Heinken
Loser Amlin.

Easy :P.

See what you think.

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mb80 September 21, 2013 5:09 pm

I was disappointed with Donal Lenihan's mudding of the issue on rte's coverage of the Leinster game on Saturday.

Bringing the borders issue into the mix as an example of Scottish Rugby badly managing rugby in their country was a really poor choice. The facts are that Scottish rugby had to reduce their pro teams from four to two in order to be competitive and to remain sustainable.

The Caledonian Reds and The Borders were hemorrhaging money and would have required a huge subsidy. Take Donal's example of comparing shutting down the Borders with Munster, the population of Galasheils is 12K and the Scottish Borders as a region is 112K. Limerick city and environs alone is 90K and Munster is 1.2m. Hell, Connacht is 500K.

Scottish rugby did the right thing organising their professional set up into two teams. Now they are being punished by the nay sayers for getting it right off the pitch.

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mb80 September 21, 2013 5:52 pm

Just to clarify, the Italian Union, FIR, received 8.3% of the ERC revenue for having 6 teams in European competition last season. Premiership Rugby received 25% for having 12 teams.

FIR splits its €3.6m between their two Pro12 clubs (They own Zebre).

Conor O'Shea and David Ellis of Harlequins will need to ask Mark McCafferty and Quentin Smith at Premiership why they only received £400,000 out of €11m last season for getting to the Quarter Finals.

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Guest2 September 24, 2013 1:03 am

All this is a media joke by English clubs, read Gerry thorny in Irish times. It's a power struggle between the RFU and the clubs. The club owners want a premiership like soccer, they already have decided that no deal with the ERC was ever going to be enough. The clubs don't give a toss about ERC or six nations for that matter only takes the players time & risks injury to their investments. RFU and IRB need to stand up to the clubs and be prepared to cut them off if they don't listen. Offer ERC places to the clubs outside the premiership because as we have seen with football if your not at the top table making top money you never will be. That or set up counties teams keep the contracts centralised with the RFU. Like they should have done back in 1995

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wolonel October 09, 2013 1:54 am

The only two rugby union leagues in the world should feck off and join rugby league. Sluts...

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