"Illegal" deal threatening Heineken Cup

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James Mortimer     26 Sep 2012     Getty Images

The very future of the Heineken Cup was said to be under threat when BT said that the new deal was the foundation of a new elite European rugby competition, and while the impasse still exists, continued talks indicate that the premier domestic tournament in the Northern Hemisphere may not be under such threat.

The ERC has been in talks with French, as well as English, clubs to reduce the number of teams in the competition from 24 to 20, while changing how the qualification system works.

But the new deal with BT Group by Premiership Rugby gives them “exclusive rights” to broadcast English Premiership and Heineken Cup matches involving England teams from 2014.

This is in contrast to the ERC’s recently signed deal with BSkyB, the current rights holders, and ERC chairman Jean-Pierre Lux was direct when talking about the BT deal.

"This (new deal) is shocking because it is illegal," he said.

"The English did not say anything about how the money from the deal will be shared between the domestic and European competitions and how it will be shared with the other countries (clubs).”

While the competition seemed to be destined to continue, with France awarded the finals for the 2013/2014 Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cup, Lux said that the BT deal had compromised England’s position.

"They (Premiership Rugby) opened talks directly with some South African and French clubs,” he said.

“This has hampered the negotiations. It is hard to talk with them. We may have to move on without the English, though I do not want it."

Currently French and English teams need a top-six finish in the Top 14 and Aviva Premiership to earn qualification for the Heineken Cup, while three Welsh teams qualify along with three Irish, two Scottish and two Italian clubs regardless of their final ranking in the RaboDirect PRO12 (the Celtic League).

France and England have asked for the ‘Celtic’ group of qualifiers to be cut from ten to six.

"Is it really appropriate always to have two Italians clubs in the group stage?” Clermont boss Jean-Marc Lhermet said.

“Is it normal that some teams automatically qualify while others have to fight for their place? I am not sure.”