Oval Talk

Anglo-French alliance should tread carefully

Oval Talk

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The Celtic nations also have a say

The question of equality has never been far away when the Heineken Cup is discussed.

English and French clubs could even boycott Europe's elite competition if radical changes are not made.

This warning has come from Leicester Tigers chief executive Simon Cohen, who claims the qualification system is unfair. And he may have a point.

As it stands, the Aviva Premiership and Top 14 have a guaranteed six qualification places apiece, while the RaboDirect Pro 12 has 11.

There is now an Anglo-French union which wants to see the top eight sides from each of Europe's three main leagues making up the competition's 24 teams. This uniform approach would offer parity while making the Heineken Cup more competitive.

"To qualify out of the Aviva Premiership is difficult, but to qualify out of the RaboDirect isn't," Cohen said.

"It means Celtic teams can rest their players leading up to the big Heineken Cup games and we can't, so we just want a level playing field.

"If RaboDirect clubs had to qualify in the same way as we and the French do — so you've got three leagues entering into the Heineken Cup with the same numbers qualifying and the income split along those lines as well — then clearly there's a solution that the English clubs, and the possibly the French, will be happy with."

If some sort of agreement is not arrived at, the English clubs would have to give the ERC two years' notice of their withdrawal - which they can do from this summer, as per their agreement with the RFU.

And why should they not demand this? The Heineken Cup qualification system was appropriate before, but no longer. It now favours the Celtic nations and until there is a level playing field, it will be detrimental to the overall quality of the competition.

"Everybody would much rather negotiate a better position within the current environment because the Heineken Cup is a great competition," Cohen added.

"But the date for renegotiating our participation agreement is fast approaching and if we can't reach an accommodation within the parameters that currently exist, you'd have to look at the options."

However, threatening to withdraw from the competition is an extreme solution which will only come across as petulance. The Premiership and Top 14 clubs need to negotiate and reason with the ERC rather than point a shotgun at their European brothers.

Parity should be a given, but if people like Cohen expect to be treated fairly then they should reciprocate those manners. He should remember that the Premiership and the Top 14 are not the centre of the world. The RaboDirect teams also have a say.

They should sit down and talk rather than throw their toys out of the pram.

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