Cockerill calls for compromise
Cockerill calls for compromiseSHARE
Leicester Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill has pleaded with rugby's power brokers to save the European Cup.
The English and French clubs have served notice they will not participate in the European tournament after this season and have indicated they will not enter further negotiations.
But Cockerill, who lifted the trophy twice as a player with Leicester Tigers, hopes the competition can be salvaged – providing the Celtic nations accept compromise.
"At this point the English and French are out and there is no European Cup next year," he said.
"But everybody would like it to work and an agreement for it to continue in a format acceptable to all parties.
"It's very important to have representation from all of the countries but it has to be on the right terms – that's what the whole argument is about."
As it stands 10 teams from the Pro12 are guaranteed participation in the top tier tournament with both Italian and Scottish sides qualifying regardless of league position.
The Anglo-Franco breakaway want to reduce the European Cup from a 24 to 20 team tournament with just six guaranteed qualifiers from the Pro12.
Cockerill said: "In the Premiership we have to battle hard every week to qualify for Europe. Qualification for the competition from each league should be the same.
"Why is it all right for Leicester, Bath or Wasps not to be in Europe but it's not all right for Munster, Leinster or one of the other Pro12 teams?
"If you want it to be the best tournament you have to qualify by being in the top six and if you're not you're not. That's what applies to us and it should be the same in the Pro12."
There are numerous other elements to the dispute with broadcasting and governance of the competition the major sticking points.
But Gloucester head coach Nigel Davies, who also enjoyed a four-year stint in charge of the Scarlets in Wales, reckons the tournament too good to leave by the wayside and believes the Pro12 teams would accept change.
"It's disappointing that we have got to this stage, with no resolution and have known about it for a long time," he said.
"The Pro12 teams see the sense in that and it would bring jeopardy to that league like we have in England.
"One of the goals we set ourselves at Gloucester was to get back into the European Cup because it's such a fantastic tournament – arguably the best in the world with some of the best players.
"The supporters want to watch it, it's a big part of their season and why they buy into clubs, the players are desperate to be in it because the level of competition and development, and coaches want to coach in it."
Players were equally despondent about the situation. Northampton's Dylan Hartley reached the final in 2011 and he insists that it is essential any new tournament includes representation from across Europe.
"It's disappointing, I've been so close to lifting the trophy and it's something I would like to do as a player," said the England international hooker.
"They are the big games – it's as close to the internationals as you can get. Playing in a final at a packed out Millennium Stadium was fantastic.
"If you are going to have a European Cup you have to include everyone in Europe in it. If you want to say you're the champions of Europe you have to beat everybody."
ERC Chief Executive, Derek McGrath, expressed the hope that a solution would be found for a new European club rugby Accord for the 2014/15 season and beyond.
"There has to be hope for a solution because the competitions have become so important to everyone. Not just in a financial sense, but also in terms of what they represent to the players, the fans and the sponsors,” said McGrath.
"We're 15 months into the process of formulating a new Accord, and we absolutely understand the frustration of the fans who must be wondering why a group of administrators are finding it difficult to come up with a solution to what is arguably the best club rugby competition in the world.
"But to date, we haven't had proper engagement, and we haven't had a genuine focus on the interests of the competitions. There are only two certainties in this situation – when the process began and when it ends. So the door is still open and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
"ERC stands by its record over the past 18 years and so far, we haven't seen any credible alternatives which provide a better, substantiated solution. We're hoping that sense will prevail.”
Leinster's Leo Cullen, the only captain in the history of the tournament to lift the European Cup three times, said: "I'd very much like to see a European competition obviously with Leinster in the thick of it. I understand some of the questions being posed by other shareholders, but I think I can speak on behalf of a lot of our players when I say that the European Cup is a phenomenal tournament to be part of.”
Pat Lam, European Cup-winning captain with Northampton Saints in 2000 and head coach of Connacht, said: "I got a taste of real success back then with guys who I was playing with week in, week out. When I bump into the likes of Freddy Mendez, Gary Pagel and Paul Grayson now, we all have that incredible memory of a European Cup Final which we'll share forever.
"It's such a great tournament, admired all around the world, so that's why it's critical that everything gets sorted out for the sake of northern hemisphere rugby. It'll be a tragedy if the European Cup is not around next year.”