By Brendan Cole
English and French clubs are poised to set up a new European competition and bring an end to the Heineken Cup in its current form from the beginning of the 2014/15 season.
The shock development was revealed in a statement released by Premiership Rugby on the Premiershiprugby.com website shortly after 5pm.
The statement said that English clubs had asked Premiership Rugby to put a new competition in place for 2014/15. It said that the new competition will also be open to teams from other countries.
The ‘Paris Accord’, the current agreement between participants in the Heineken Cup which has been in place since 2007, is due to expire after the final of this year’s competition in May.
Negotiations intended to address issues raised by the English and French clubs had been taking place, with the last meeting being held in May.
However, there is a scheduled meeting on the issue invovling all stakeholders due to take place at European Rugby Cup (ERC) in Dublin tomorrow.
This evening, French clubs released a near-simultaneous statement confirming their support for the English move.
The dispute centres on qualification criteria and broadcast rights.
French and English clubs want to change the qualification criteria for the Heineken Cup and reduce the number of teams taking part from 20.
Currently, the competition consists of 24 teams with six each from England and France, three each from Ireland and Wales, and two each from Scotland and Italy taking part.
The Heineken Cup winner and the Amlin Challenge Cup winner also receive places in the following year’s tournament.
As it stands, each country independently decides how to award its places. Ireland and Wales award theirs on the basis of RaboDirect Pro12 finishing position. Scotland and Italy only have two professional teams and award their places to those teams places automatically.
"Irish provinces have won five of the last eight Heineken Cups."
This year, Leinster’s Challenge Cup victory meant Connacht were awarded a place.
Irish provinces have won five of the last eight Heineken Cups. The last English winner was London Wasps, who beat Leicester Tigers in an all-English final in 2006/7.
Broadcast rights agreements are a potential sticking point in negotiations with BT Vision and Sky both involved in the battle to show the competition.
ERC and Sky negotiated a contract extension beyond 2014, but the English clubs say that ERC was not entitled to sign off on that deal.
The English clubs have negotiated a separate deal involving both the domestic English league and European matches with BT Vision.
Statement by English clubs:
"The 2013/14 Aviva Premiership Rugby season kicked off this weekend with our clubs having no clear view of new European competitions from next season onwards.
"The current European Rugby Cup (ERC) competitions terminate at the end of this season after notice was served by the English and French clubs in June 2012.
"Despite numerous meetings between the stakeholders over the last year, the last of which was in May, discussions have been unsuccessful and the clubs can only conclude that negotiations on any new European agreement have now ended.
"The English and French clubs have proposed the formation of two new, stronger competitions of 20 teams each, based on the principles of qualification on merit from each league, the inclusion of teams from all six existing countries and the expansion into new markets. These proposals could form the basis of future competitions.
"However, given the importance and urgency of the current position, and the reconfirmation that the French clubs will not participate in any competition unless it includes the English clubs, the clubs have now asked Premiership Rugby to take immediate action to put in place a competition for 2014/15 to include the French and English clubs but which will also be open to teams from other countries.