Top clubs in England and France will quit the Heineken Cup in the next two years as the current format favours the Celtic nations according to Premiership Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty.
Speaking to the Guardian McCafferty said: “Most of the Ireland squad will not be released for the Pro12 until rounds three or four, something they could not do if they depended on their finishing position in the league for European qualification.
The 2007 agreement between clubs in the Heineken Cup is that any stakeholder, such as Premiership Rugby, can give notice to leave after five years, with a two year period of negotiation on the agreement provided for, but McCafferty feels little progress has been made.
“The clubs in England and France have served two years’ notice that we intend to pull out of Europe because there needs to be a level playing field.”
“So far, the response from the other countries has been slow, even though we are not sabre-rattling. We have not been locked in talks and there is no meeting about the issue until the end of next month.
“Our view is that the qualification process needs to be changed so that it is entirely merit-based – the top teams in all three leagues as well as the winners of the Heineken Cup and the Amlin Challenge Cup should make up 20 sides taking part.”
Leinster and Munster have won five of the last seven Heineken Cup, which the Engllish and French authorities believe is down to the resting of players in the RaboDirect PRO12 season, as three of the four teams in Ireland qualify.
McCafferty and his French counterparts want ProRabo qualification limited to six teams from the current ten which would most likely risk the Scottish and Italian teams who qualify automatically, but they say improve the Heineken Cup.
“It is like me saying that the Premiership has to provide a qualifier from the south-west. It cannot be good for the competition that you do not have the best sides qualifying.”
“Aironi were disbanded at the end of the last season and the newly-formed Zebres go straight into the Heineken Cup.”
McCafferty said he was serious and the matter would be decided soon, with the English and French forming a breakaway competition if needed.
“ERC should know that we are serious and while the issue has to be resolved, everyone has to realise we cannot carry on as we are,” he said.
“If it is not, we would go to an Anglo-French competition and if others wanted to join us, fair enough.”
An ERC spokesperson said that they were aware of the issues and would proceed with next month’s planned meeting about it.
“We have held meetings with all our shareholders and asked them to draw up proposals which will be considered at next month’s meeting.
“Notice was served by the French and English clubs and the French Rugby Federation at the beginning of June and it was agreed at a board meeting a few days afterwards that we would have a workshop in September after holding briefings with everyone.
“We do not want to enter a war of words with Premiership Rugby, but we have been working away in the background and we are in the second phase of the consultation process.”