IRB wants top clubs in Heineken Cup

Date published: September 19 2013

IRB CEO Brett Gosper wants the Heineken Cup to remain a tournament for Europe's top clubs amid fears of an Anglo-French exit.

IRB chief executive Brett Gosper said he wants the Heineken Cup to remain a tournament for Europe's leading clubs amid fears of an Anglo-French breakaway.

The tournament, as well as the second-string Amlin Challenge Cup, faces an uncertain future after English and French clubs have given their notice to quit the existing competition structures at the end of the season amid a row over revenue distribution, qualification procedures and broadcast rights.

“Our clear position is we support a full European competition,” said Gosper at a news conference in London to mark two years to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

“Our desire is a bona fide European competition so we are urging all of the constituents of that conversation at the moment to get together and find a resolution because we obviously believe it is in the interests of rugby to have a strong European competition.

“It's good for the clubs, it's good for the (national) unions,” the Australian added in his first public comment on the row.

“Obviously, they are in a negotiation, hopefully they are in a negotiation, some say they are, some say they aren't, but certainly we (the IRB) believe in a European competition and will support that outcome as much as we can.”

England World Cup-winning fly-half Jonny Wilkinson backed the continuation of the Heineken Cup, having achieved a career-ambition when lifting the trophy after kicking 11 points for Toulon in their 16-15 win against French rivals Clermont in the most recent final at Dublin's Lansdowne Road in May.

“It would be an incredible shame if we weren't able to compete in the Heineken (European) Cup which is, effectively, the World Cup for European clubs,” Wilkinson told the London Evening Standard.

“Having fought like mad while at Newcastle and twice managing to get into the Cup, and reaching a quarter-final in Paris and having a couple of goes here at Toulon, it makes you realise what an event it is for northern hemisphere rugby.

“Going to the quarter-final, semis and the final with Toulon reminded me so much of that World Cup experience where you have media in the week and stadium visits,” he added.

“It's a fabulous thing and the more people who can experience it, the better.

“However, if there is unhappiness and unrest then it needs to be sorted out and long may the competition continue.”

Clubs from both the Premiership and Top 14 are unhappy with the existing set-up which sees nearly all leading sides from Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Italy guaranteed Heineken Cup places on grounds of nationality rather than on their positions in the domestic PRO12 League.

The Premiership and the Ligue National de Rugby (LNR), their French equivalent, are also unhappy at the way Heineken Cup revenues are divided, arguing they should receive a greater share on the grounds their clubs generate the bulk of the revenue, with the Premiership and ERC involved in a row over the ownership of broadcast rights to tournament matches.

The LNR have said French sides would participate in the Heineken Cup from next season only if it also involved English clubs.

Meanwhile, Gosper said Wednesday the IRB were expecting to generate a surplus of some £150 million ($240 million, 180 million euros) from the 2015 World Cup which the global governing body intends to plough into the development of rugby union worldwide.

This compared to a figure of £92 million generated by the 2011 World Cup won by hosts New Zealand, with IRB officials attributing the difference to the larger commercial market in Europe.

But, despite the recent global financial crisis, the projected 2015 figure also represents an increase on the £121 million produced by the 2007 World Cup in France.