European Cup rugby
Established in 1995 and widely known as the Heineken Cup, this prestigious club competition involves 24 leading teams from countries whose national sides contest the Six Nations. Teams who do not qualify for the European Cup enter the second-tier European Challenge Cup.
Anglo-French breakaway plan from rugby Heineken Cup not ideal: IRB chief Brett Gosper
IRB heavyweight insists Anglo-French competition is not in interests of the code
Brett Gosper, the most powerful man in world rugby, entered the battle for the future of the European club game by saying that the International Rugby Board (IRB) did not want to see an Anglo-French breakaway from the Heineken Cup.
English and French clubs said last week that they planned to set up their own two-tier competitions after running out of patience with stalled talks over the future of the Heineken Cup.
Europe's two most powerful unions are frustrated by what they see as a qualifying system unfairly weighted in favour of Ireland, Wales and Scotland and want a greater share of the income from the tournament.
Since then both sides have used the media to present their respective cases, each saying the other was acting outside of tournament rules. It is the third major civil war to hit the tournament since it began in 1995-96.
Gosper, the IRB chief executive, was in London on Wednesday to promote the World Cup, which begins in England in two years, but instead the Australian found himself answering questions about the Heineken Cup.
"Our clear position is we support a full European competition and our desire is it is a bona fide European competition, so we are urging all of the constituents of that conversation at the moment to get together and find a resolution because we obviously believe it is in the interests of rugby to have a strong European competition, it's good for the clubs, it's good for the [national] unions," he said.
"Obviously, they are in a negotiation, hopefully they are in a negotiation. Some say they are, some say they aren't."
Pressed for the IRB's preferred outcome, he replied: "We don't believe in an Anglo-French competition in itself. We don't think a tournament such as that is in the interest of the game.
"We strongly believe it should be a European competition. That is what we would be supporting and throwing our weight behind. We know there are lots of discussions and there are different versions of how there have been fallouts and disagreements. We urge all of those parties to get together and find some common ground because we believe it is in the interests of the game to do so."
Gosper said the IRB was not formally involved in the present negotiations, but were talking to both sides privately.
He said he did not share the fear that this would be the last season of a competition that had attracted huge crowds and terrific television audiences after producing consistently high-quality and entertaining competition.
"Let's not get too carried away," he said. "This is a negotiation where parties are seeking to get more than they had in the past. It is a normal process.
"This is a young professional sport. The international game is growing and the club game is growing. The clubs have businesses to run and the unions have to understand that. …People have to realise we have a future together so we have to work it out."