ERC chief confident over Cup future

Somerset County Gazette: ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath believes that there is still hope for the Heineken Cup ERC Chief Executive Derek McGrath believes that there is still hope for the Heineken Cup

European Rugby Cup chief executive Derek McGrath remains confident an agreement can be reached to avert an Anglo-French breakaway tournament.

English and French clubs have served notice to leave European Rugby Cup-run events and have invited Celtic and Italian teams to join them in their own Rugby Champions Cup next season.

But McGrath feels there is time to negotiate a position to ensure this season's Heineken Cup, which starts next weekend, is not the last.

The Irishman said: "I take a huge amount of hope. The last few days we have heard coaches and players from a number of countries say how much this competition means.

"I'm really looking forward to the competition kicking off because once people remind themselves what this competition means to the fans and players, that's when people I believe will change the conversation and realise this is too good to lose."

English clubs have already secured agreement with BT Sport for their proposed tournament despite the Heineken Cup currently being shown on Sky Sports, but McGrath insists there is room for negotiation.

"The arrival of an unapproved BT deal before we began our negotiations has undoubtedly had a serious impact on the ability to get people to engage and develop trust," he said.

"There have been many challenges over the years in terms of trying to find a negotiated position and I'm very confident we can find agreements that will provide the best outcome for everybody.

"There is a responsibility on everybody, irrespective of the positions people have, because it's not ERC plus the clubs.

"The clubs are part of ERC so they have an obligation to take on their wider responsibilities to European competition and the fans, players and sponsors."

English clubs have said they will not be attending an ERC meeting on October 23-24 but McGrath insists there is work being done out of the spotlight.

"We brought in a mediator now in order to find consensus and respect the fact there is a wide distance between the positions," he said.

"Hopefully we can get that process of engagement going along. Clearly there is a lot of concern around the game, at IRB level and all of the unions, both in the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere, so there is going to be a lot of engagement there.

"There is a lot of behind-the-scenes activity to try and find format resolutions and financial distribution models that might work, and then hopefully we can begin to work through the detail."

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