English and French agreed on cup format

PA Sport
The English and French want teams from the PRO12 qualify for the Heineken Cup on merit

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The English and French want teams from the PRO12 qualify for the Heineken Cup on merit

Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty believes the alliance between England and France over the future of the Heineken Cup is stronger than ever.

The Aviva Premiership and Top 14 clubs have tabled plans to overhaul the structure of European rugby that are being opposed by the Celtic nations and Italy, who make up the Rabodirect PRO12.

The English and French want to ensure teams from the PRO12 qualify for a 20-team Heineken Cup on merit and for the money to be divided equally between the three leagues. The French clubs on Wednesday rejected two different counter proposals tabled by the PRO12 and stood firm on their agreement with Premiership Rugby, who were not invited to the meeting.

The PRO12 proposals have been interpreted by some club officials as an attempt to drive a wedge between England and France. But if that was the case, then McCafferty believes it has failed and potentially back-fired.

"It's disappointing that European Rugby Cup Ltd chose to stage a meeting in this way," McCafferty said. "However, everyone is now at least absolutely clear that the French and English clubs have a common vision for the format of European competition for 2014."

The Rugby Football Union were at the meeting, represented by chief executive Ian Ritchie and professional rugby director Rob Andrew.

The first proposal tabled by the PRO12 was for an expanded single European tournament of 32 teams. It was rejected partly because it would leave the bottom two clubs in the Premiership and Top 14 without continental competition.

The second proposal was for the Heineken Cup to remain at 24 teams but for the Amlin Challenge Cup to be reduced to 16. That was also rejected.

The Anglo-French plan is for the Heineken Cup to be trimmed to 20 teams, for four teams to drop into a strengthened Amlin Challenge Cup and for a third tournament to be created for clubs in developing nations.

That would end the right of clubs in the PRO12 to have guaranteed entry into the Heineken Cup no matter where they finish in the league.

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